How I ended up in the trailer of a Scottish Independence film

I live in Scotland, and I’ll be voting in the referendum, but I haven’t been terribly outgoing about my opinions, apart from having a YES badge on one of my jackets (which I haven’t worn for weeks). I’m therefore somewhat bemused by finding myself in trailer #1 for Scotland Yet.

It all started when Kirsty Logan, in her capacity as Books Editor of The List, put out a call for flash fiction pieces about an independent Scotland. I took up the challenge and wrote “Essay Topic: How the Wars of Scottish Independence led to a Better Scotland” – it was something of a parody of how some history essays are basically The Bits Everyone Knows, with a few trivial and even apocryphal details. (Does anyone who isn’t a medieval historian know anything about Alfred the Great apart from maybe he burned the cakes? That sort of thing.)

Kirsty didn’t take the piece. Sob! But as she published a poem of mine in the same issue, I rapidly dried my tears and looked around to see what else I could do with the story. (Also, you can read the excellent pieces she did select.)

I ended up adapting it as a performance piece: “How the Wars of Scottish Independence led to a Better Scotland, by Fiona, Age 10″. I debuted it at the National Library of Scotland’s Burns Night Slam, and it was something of a tribute to my improvement as a performance poet that I made it to the final round, placing third, whereas the previous year I’d been knocked out in the first. A fellow competitor, upon tendering his congratulations, suggested that I might have won if I’d performed the Independence piece last, as it got such a good reaction from the audience, but unfortunately you never know with such things, and anyway I’m not sure I had another piece strong enough to launch me into the final. However, I was quite pleased with myself, and later spent my prize of a £10 Blackwell’s gift voucher on my current Moleskine notebook.

Jenny Lindsay, who is one of the grandes dames of the Edinburgh spoken word scene [in the sense of experience and prominence rather than age, I hastily add], enjoyed the piece so much that she invited me to perform it at a National Collective event in February. National Collective is a group of artists and creative who are pro-independence. This particular event had poems and memoirs and I think there was a short film, or possibly some slides? Anyway, I did my piece and I think it went well.

Two nights later, when the cabaret Jenny organises with Rachel McCrum (Rally and Broad) needed a last-minute performer due to illness, they contacted me and I went on that night, and did the independence piece as part of my set. I vaguely remember being told that someone was filming, but I didn’t really think about it.

…until a friend tagged me in a Facebook comment last week, and today I finally went to look at what she was referring to.

(Rally and Broad starts at 2:03 and I’m on for a whole nine seconds not much later than that.) I should probably open my eyes wider when I perform. Or memorise my pieces so I’m not looking down at the paper so much. On the other hand, I’m glad I wore lipstick!

(Because lipstick is always a plus.)

Anyway, I wasn’t expecting to see myself wedged in between snippets of intelligent creative people saying interesting things (Jenny is there, as is Alan Bissett, and many other people). And some chickens. Not sure how the chickens would vote, to be honest. But I’m happy that my performance was interesting enough to be spliced into the trailer, and I look forward to seeing the full-length version.

And to the referendum.


The weather in Edinburgh is its usual grey mush, which makes the longest-day-of-the-year a bit blah. But then, I always assumed my Six Days In The Middle East would be all the summer I’d get, so any other stray hours of sunlight are mere bonuses.

Some good things have been happening, in spite of the rain.

Unfortunately, two of them I can’t discuss specifics of yet – a poem in a journal I’ve tried multiple times to crack and finally did, which I’ve been asked not to mention until the editors make a formal announcement (HURRYUPHURRYUPHURRYUP), and placing a novel with a publisher in the states.

…no, you didn’t miss anything. It was a bit sudden!

It’s a new e-publisher and an old novel – I am doing that not unknown thing where the first novel doesn’t get published till after the second one. It isn’t historical – except in the sense of, I had to retrofit mobile phones into it, because I began writing it before such new-fangled things were in common use. I’m quite pleased and can’t wait to get the contract and start doing whatever edits are needed.

Now, a few nice things I can talk about: last night, Inky Fingers held a Dead Poets Slam, and I came in second! There were fewer participants than expected so we had a different set-up – every poet read twice in the first round, and then three went through to the final. Those poets were Charles Bukowski, Edward Lear, Banjo Patterson, Marilyn Monroe (seriously), Sylvia Plath, Allen Ginsberg, and Dorothy Parker.


I had a martini glass and a cigarette holder (complete with fake cigarette) and two different hats, because really, if you have 1920s-style hats you should wear them, and sadly I don’t wear them nearly enough. I didn’t own any red lipstick, but of course Marilyn had some.

Banjo, Dorothy, and Charles made it to the final, and that was the order we placed in. I haven’t been doing well in slams lately so I’m pleased that I can still bring it home, even if I’m not reading my own work. For the record, my pieces were ‘Resume’, ‘Symptom Recital’,and ‘The Gunman and the Debutante: A Moral Tale’. (I had the first two memorized – long, long ago….)

And, finally, I made the Super 17 of Story Shop 2012, so I’ll be reading a ten-minute story during the Edinburgh International Book Festival. I don’t know the exact date, but I do know the story.

So many good things! Now if it would only stop raining….

April is the something something month

Wow, March seemed incredibly long, but I managed not to blog. Sorry about that, those of you who read here regularly.

April should actually be a pretty good month, given that I will receive my first royalty payment! How it works (for me, at least; I can’t speak for any other authors) is that I receive royalties (if there are any) twice a year. Because The Girl in the Bunker was published in early July, and the cutoff dates are 30 June and 31 December, I am only now going to see some money. Cargo sent me an interim statement in October, so I know that I did actually sell some books.

Note to anyone who thinks writing novels is a direct route to lots of cash: I began writing this novel in April 2007. It is now April 2012, and this is the first money I will actually earn from it.

(Not counting a) some nice chocolates from the book group in the Netherlands and b) drinks cadged off my publisher after events.)

I also have a few applications in for jobs and residencies, so the mills are grinding slowly.

I’ve participated in four slams since my last blog entry, coming in 3rd in one of them. I’m still developing a sense of what slam poetry actually is, and every time I think I understand, the next slam ends up contradicting it. Which is fine, because consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds and all that, but I find it intriguing that the only slam I actually placed in was the only one where none of the judges were random audience members. Sadly, I don’t think I’ll be able to attend any slam events when I next go to the states; I would really like to get more perspective. (But the internet is proving useful. My current goal is to write something half as gut-punching as Andrea Gibson’s Blue Blanket.)

Edinburgh’s weather was summer last week, winter now, except it’s teasing us with sunshine, so I will finish my next application and then go outside. Maybe a slam poem about the weather would do the trick…?

Published in: on April 5, 2012 at 10:42 am  Comments (1)  

Those paper literary sculptures

I’m thrilled to see that the mystery paper sculptures that turned up around Edinburgh over the past several months have become international news. It was a laugh-out-loud moment to see a friend in the states share the NPR story, and to see my photographer (that’s Chris Scott) namechecked for his work.

Please do everyone admire them.

Bigthink wonders whether print is the new counterculture. Thoughts?

And no, to answer a friend’s joking query in the same spirit he asked – while I am based in Edinburgh, and am very good at procrastinating, and love to come up with new and exciting ways to avoid writing, they are not my creations. (Angry Birds is more my speed.) I only wish I were that talented!

Links and things

I’ve been writing a poem a day (in May!) and my New Writers Award mentorship is underway so it’s been a bit busy round here, and also I am listening to the election results, which is turning the entire map of Scotland yellow courtesy of the SNP whipping various regions into submission. (Seriously, they completely swept the North East’s ten seats and the BBC said they therefore couldn’t get any of the regional seats, and they still managed to pick up one of those.)

Okay, it’s not entirely yellow. There are still a few red and orange bits, and the blue wings at the bottom of the map which I presume will be gifted to England after the SNP gain independence.

Okay, they probably won’t, but I have a dystopian novel-in-progress that says they do, so I think about it a lot.

In lieu of proper commentary, then, here are some links I’ve been collecting.

First, a couple about me:

Paparazzo to the Edinburgh lit crowd Chris Scott has been working on a project in which he does non-traditional author photos. He blogs about them at and here’s the entry in which he discusses my photo shoot. Chris claims I am a ‘long term challenge’ for him. He should chat earnestly with my boyfriend over a pint…. NB I’m also in the blog header (next to Alistair Gray) and I’m not sure I don’t like that picture better, much as I loved posing on a spiral staircase.

My two sonnets in Standpoint are really a thrill, as political/cultural commentary is not a market I have ever published in, and as my co-poet Sarah Skwire points out, they treat their poets very well. Here’s my author page which includes a link to one of the poems, ‘The Oncologist’s Nightmare’. I only wish you could see the full layout of my work because it includes a lovely drawing that underscores the medical themes.

Now onto other writers you should be reading:

Sarah Skwire’s blog with a variety of raptures.

Isabel Ashdown discusses what authors should be paid for appearing at festivals and other events. My publisher (that would be Cargo Publishing, now official publisher of the Dundee Book Prize) is already getting me into various festivals, which I shall reveal here when the stars are right. I don’t know if I’m being paid for any of them, though frankly I’m still at the point where bus-fare-and-a-scone is considered a win.

And, finally, book envy:

Customized book side tables.

Another 12 modern bookcases.

Book floor.

20 insanely creative bookshelves.

Books for walls.

And if you can’t afford books for your walls, just get this wallpaper instead.


Living in Scotland makes my life remarkably easy when it comes to bringing stuff back for the folks at home. I used to rely entirely on shortbread, but recently diversified to include oatcakes and tablet. (The latter is basically sugar and milkfats reduced to a solid cube the density of osmium. I didn’t realize just how much milk was involved until I let Thundercat smell a piece, thinking she would turn up her nose, and found her frantically licking it.) Advantages are numerous:

compact. Multiple small packages don’t take up much room.

Scottish. These things often have tartan on the packaging.

inexpensive. All found at the grocery store or the farmer’s market.

edible. If I am ever again trapped overnight at Newark airport, I shall not starve.

oatcakes are good for my gluten-free and lactose-intolerant friends. Tablet is probably not good for anyone, though it is tasty.

not (yet) on any TSA lists for being used as components for making devices that target air travel. We live in hope they never will be.

As for the books I’m bringing to read on the plane, pretty much only A.S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book, which I stalled out on due to other things going on, so I am going to make a running re-start. I have several books waiting for me in the states, and am bringing quite a few back for friends, so I cannot overload the carry-on bag.


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