This week’s blog is a sort of guest post – I’d like to share this blurb about my pamphlet.
Parent. Worshipper. Carrion. is a powerful collection of poems that touch on core but often under-represented aspects of what it is to be human. From parenting to gender, religion to mental health to the natural world, the themes of this pamphlet may be specific to Stella Hervey Birrell’s own life but they are also universally recognisable. Stella has a gift for finding the quiet truths in moments when the balance of life is shifting. These poems are skilfully crafted while still retaining that rawness that makes you sit up and say, “This is it – this is the real thing.”
Rae Plummer, author of Wain.
A link to Wain, which you should buy if you haven’t already.
A link to Parent. Worshipper. Carrion.
It’s just another gig
I keep telling myself.
Just another gig.
Except – I haven’t had a gig – I mean, no one has,
for almost a year.
Who knows when my next one will be?
It’s just me: top of the bill.
It’s just me: a whole pamphlet of me.
(I’m starting to wonder why I’m trying
to convince myself it’s just another gig.)
It’s not just another gig.
I’ll be a little box
(or a big box, depending on your Zoom settings)
on a screen
in my house
in a room
none of the warmth of an audience
none of that pin-drop silence
more a tumbleweed silence.
So I do what I always do –
I breathe, and stretch,
I record myself,
watch it back (that’s the hardest part!).
I take notes.
It gets better.
Happy New Year?
It was a couple of weeks before the end of last year when I listened to a podcast which said the whole ‘seeing the back of 2020’ thing was a false premise.
I mean, of course, we all knew that. But did we really know that?
For us here in the UK, January 2021 so far is remarkably similar to March 2020. Schools are closed again, and as much as I love my precious babies, I am not a natural home-schooler.
So it’s self-care again, back to the basics. I realised if I’m not waking a kid up to catch an early bus, I can have my precious 6am-7am hour back. I’m writing this in a silent house full of sleeping people (and cat). Sometimes I need rest. Sometimes I need work. Both are fulfilling, and necessary.
Lockdown Day 30.
‘Cat is very keen on being on my notebook…
Apparently it’s International Stationery Day today, perhaps I should buy something?’
Lockdown Day 34
‘Dr Reid said I shouldn’t take more than 10 sumitriptan a month … cue headache that put me to bed by lunchtime and lifted at 11pm ish.
OMG my rose is going to bud.’
Lockdown Day 38
‘kids and I went on the long bike run. I managed to fall off my bike just out of the path of an oncoming lorry…sore and a fright but no harm done and was v brave for kids. The lorry would possibly have stopped, he nearly pulled in to check I was OK, bless him.’
Lockdown Day 42
‘Sank a bottle of Prosecco last night. Crikey. Certainly need to NOT do that every day.’
Lockdown Day 43
‘Cat is all over my notebook.’
Excerpts from Morning Pages.
Lockdown Day 14
‘<child> is v. sad today but hopefully he’ll feel better soon. <Other child> did graze their knee trying to drag them out of bed! And they have no clean trousers…they’re all on the washing line.’
Lockdown Day 15
‘had a migraine yesterday – not sure if it was the ‘trying to like almond milk’ or the ‘trying to look at the novel. Damn you, stupid goal-setting workshop! Took both meds, went to bed.’
Lockdown Day 21
‘Wow we’ve done 3 weeks. Mental. I wrote the dullest blog ever yesterday.’
Lockdown Day 28
‘<child> has been super miserable and sad these last two days. They aren’t eating very well and feel ill by teatime…they miss their life…think actually we have to let them be sad…and not expect to feel better, just because they did things differently.’
Mr HB and I went for a walk the other day, and for once he wanted to talk about my writing (this never happens). It turns out he wanted to check whether I still wanted to be a writer. ‘It doesn’t seem to make you happy. At all,’ he said.
I was a bit shocked! But then I remembered. His perception is based on me whining: another rejection, another novel that will have to go in a drawer because it doesn’t quite work, another opportunity that went to someone else, another year with not much or no money.
So I reminded him that I don’t do this for money (just as well!). And I told him that, contrary to appearances, I love to write. It keeps me sane. That feeling, when I get into flow and an hour goes by …
I was planning my next novel the other day (as you do). As many of you know, there are apparently two types of novel-writers, the pantsers and the planners.
I’m a planner.
I use the excellent ‘Save the Cat’ for story structure, mostly so I can use phrases like ‘break into Act 3.’ Ripping up little bits of paper for the required fifteen sections, I filled in what I could, hoping the blank sections would somehow become magically completed as I worked.
Number 12 is a story beat called ‘Dark Night of the Soul.’ By my calculations it occurs in Chapter 36 of 40.
When I looked over what I’d written, it said ‘main character realises she needs to be a fucking mum and get on with it,’ I realised this was exactly. It.
It’s now written on slip number 2: ‘Thematic Premise Stated.’
I am just settling back down to work. Chapter two of Novel number 4 – a woman sits in an office, trying to work on her PhD. Her phone rings: it’s her mother in law. Her phone rings again: this time it’s her friend.
The Spotify playlist I’m ignoring stops playing, my phone rings.
It’s Mr HB. Well, it’s Mr HB’s phone. My youngest had asked if he could ring, and Mr HB thought he wanted to say hello and ‘some other nice things.’
Fat chance. He had rung to tell me how bad his day had been.
Then Mr HB told me the oldest had been in trouble again. I listened as they lost screen for the afternoon and melted down.
Mr HB apologised. I went back to work. The woman got some work done. Her phone was silent: for now.
Next week is Book Week Scotland!
It’s a great chance to get out and about in the writing/reading community. Get inspired, make connections, give yourself an enthusiasm boost as the nights start to draw in.
This year, on Tuesday (21/11/19) I’m at one of my closest libraries: the John Gray Centre in Haddington. Fitting, as our topic is ‘Local Blethers‘! Myself, Rebecca McKinney, and Charlie Laidlaw will be talking inspiration, setting and how our localities feed into our writing. We’ll be blethering from 6pm-7:30pm and the event is free.
On Thursday I’m taking up my new position as co-host of Listen, Softly: Edinburgh. This isn’t just a one-off Book Week visit, I’m joining Claire and Dom to help with programming, sound, and the usual ‘any-other-duties-as-required!’ I’m excited and honoured to be involved in this popular addition to Edinburgh’s spoken word scene.
As a woman with mental health issues, and the parent of an enby kid, I’m often aware of other people’s male-cis-het-ableist privilege.
Today, however, I have the most privilege I’ve ever felt in my life.
- I am in an air bnb (financially secure enough for this, and multiple trips to Tesco for cashews and vegan chocolate)
- for two nights (not in a nine-five with four weeks of holiday a year)
- my children being looked after by their dad (co-parenting: surely the ultimate privilege?)
- writing (able to pursue this un-lucrative work for many years now)
- listening to music and podcasts (having decided I can afford Spotify: currently on free trial)
- and reading (only one was free from the library).
This is heaven.
This. An accident of birth, and race, cisgendered heterosexual marriage, and secure family that led me to this point.