Featured Writer: Pippa Little

We are delighted to welcome Pippa Little as this month’s Featured Writer. Pippa is a poet of distinction who a few years ago, as many of us will remember, read at the Centre Stage event, the highlight of each day of poetry readings at the StAnza poetry festival. She says that her poem, Gathering, which you can read below, and which expresses in lovingly observed detail the sense of calm reflection and companionship with the dead that old churchyards induce, is ‘about (partly) the Howff in Dundee, which I loved when living nearby there, also the beautiful Victorian churchyard across the road from my house now which I visit every day.’.

 Pippa Little is a Scots poet living in Northumberland where she is a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Newcastle University. Her two full collections, Overwintering (Carcanet) and Twist (Arc) were both shortlisted for major prizes. A third, Time Begins To Hurt, is forthcoming. She runs writing workshops, mentors and belongs to two women’s poetry groups. She has been published in many magazines/online including Glasgow Review of Books, Gutter, Dreich (see below under Members’ News), Chapman, Poetry Review, The Rialto. Two proud moments: a haiku beamed on to the wall of the National Gallery in Edinburgh and organising a Poem-A-Thon for refugees. 

Surrounded by slanting walls rose-red
and tappy-lappy tenements
this churchyard sits in its own secrets
known only to locals and lone cats.

Slip through its fronded gate
and city roar turns to murmuration,
known names sea-weathered in stone
warm to my hands’ touch.

Grace who died at five days old
Laura Marley, delivered
into the Lord’s care 1869,
Until The Shadows Flee Away. 

When time and the heart make heavy
I go with nothing more than need
to be among them, in their fern, bramble, dog rose
where they listen to my thoughts

the old sun shawls our shoulders
and we are companionable with one another.

© Pippa Little 2020

The FWS collective online story..

Our Scriever Charlie Gracie challenged our Facebook members to write a story in blocks of nine words on Saturday 16th May 2020.

You had to be think on your feet to take part! If the segment didn’t follow on from the previous one, if it was just posted to the page, if comments were just made in threads or weren’t nine words, your contribution would be deleted. Caroline Johnstone our social media manager managed this over the six hours of the challenge.

At 10 a.m. Charlie started us off with the words, “Polly opened her front door. First time in weeks,” thinking that might start things off an escape from Coronavirus story. We had an immediate plot twist from one of the contributors – and over the next six hours, 24 contributors provided 44 different elements, with Charlie keeping the story moving and providing the unexpected ending we’ve come to know him for at 4 p.m.

Everyone who took part enjoyed it and those who were late to the party still enjoyed reading the end result:

Polly opened her front door. First time in weeks. She sniffed the air; the stench of blood unmistakable. Well, lambing season was here. Polly pulled on wellies. She looked down, too scared to look up again.

Picking up the delivery from the butcher’s, she noticed it. “Here this isnae funny, I’m no easy scared”. The pack of sausages had a finger in them. Polly eased the bloody note away from the digit; that ring looked oddly familiar, the small ruby glistening.

‘Come in quick,’ shouted an angry voice from inside. She slid the ring into her pocket, and turned in time to see the maid glaring from the window above, had she seen her take the ring?

Stifling a sense of guilt, she turned to see the four digit hand of god ; pointing at her. She shivered in blind terror as salt tears stung. ‘Damn, Evan. I’ll never lose another night drinking absinthe.

Polly remembered the bloody note, crumpled in her hand. After carefully sanitising the bag and note she returned…her thoughts toward her secret. She must hide the evidence of her foul misdeed but where was safe?

She remembered the place where she’d hidden other treasures; it was lambing season and the sheep wouldn’t mind.

Her secret buried in earthy pastures. But why now? The reverend was on her case; he also knew! She had to end this. Once and for all… She grabbed her shotgun, loaded it and strode outside. The shriek rang out before she fired her gun. Who was screaming?

Then she realised it was her. The scarecrow wearing the Reverend’s hat rotated anti- clockwise. Reality was disintegrating in front of her eyes, what had that note said? I HAVE FOUND YOU. RUN.

A kaleidoscope of jewels flashed from knarled taunting hands… Polly woke in a sweat. Never. Taking. LSD. Again. Somebody chapped the door loudly. It was the Reverend, his black crow clothes torn. Eyes full of fury, the shotgun in his hand betraying his priestly calling.

She placed the ruby finger on the trigger and turned the gun’s barrels towards his drawn pale face. “Forgive me father, for I know what I do…Would you care to join me for some sausages?”

No more. Tell everyone the truth or I’ll shoot. “No chance – it’s sausages and beans or nothing pal.”

And Charlie’s verdict:

“That was a great day today. Big thanks to Caroline for putting it all together and keeping things going.

I’d really no idea at all what Polly was going to get up to when she opened that door at 10 o’clock in the morning. It was some day, all those writers taking her in and out of crazy danger. Inevitable, I suppose, that she ended up frying sausages for a man of the cloth who bore her little but Ill. It was a pleasure to be part of the joint imagination of the Federation of Writers. What a wonderful collection of skill and creativity. I hope we can do it again sometime. “

Featured Writing Group: Lockerbie Writers

Lockerbie Writers (https://lockerbiewritersanthology.wordpress.com/) meet fortnightly from 1000 to 1200 in the Townhead Hotel, Lockerbie, and are a like-minded group of local writers that share their work and provide supportive critique and motivation. Two of their members, Paula Gilfillan and Kath Rennie, are FWS members. Paula (pen name Paula Nicolson) achieved a Commended prize for her flash fiction in the 2019 FWS Vernal Equinox writing competition and another piece was published in the FWS anthology: High Tide.

They’ve just published their second anthology of short stories: Behind Closed Doors – Stories of Sanity, Suffering and Secrets, after the warm reception they received to their first anthology in 2016 (Stories and Poems from Annandale and Eskdale).

After a chance visit by Vivien Jones (Wigtown Festival Literature Ambassador for Annandale and Eskdale), they set off on the path of self publication, despite having never considered it as a group before. It has been a steep learning curve, but a journey they’ve enjoyed making. If your group is interested in self-publishing, but are not sure where to start, they would be happy to share tips (and receive them too!).

Behind Closed Doors is a smorgasbord of short stories that discuss, ruminate and extrapolate on many social issues; from the murderous to the ridiculous. It can be purchased from Amazon. Lockerbie Writers hope you enjoy reading their stories and if you do, please leave them a review.

© Paula Gilfillan 2020

Recipe for joy – a collaborative poem

The Makar Challenge! This piece was written collaboratively on Facebook on April 5th 2020 in real time as members responded to the following instructions from our Makar Finola Scott: 

  1. You can only submit one line so make it count, by
    posting it in the comments. This must be original and your own work.
  2. You should use recipe words – stir, fold etc
  3. But no actual foods should be used.
  4. Abstract concepts like friendship, kindness etc
    are welcome
  5. As are concrete things like budding tulips.

And here is the poem that resulted 59 comments later:

In a large bowl, add one cup of fresh cherry blossom to 500mls of friends’ laughter and stir well. Leave to marinade for the length of time

it takes to sing your favourite song.
Strain the mixture through a fine sieve to obtain the pink essence of friendship.

Flour a board with absent smiles, knead gently and allow time to rest. Cover with primrose petals, placing each with a goodwill wish.

The flour was stirred into the kindness of humanity; add a teaspoon of spicy wit, and a generous handful of wisdom. Bring in to the

mix, a cup of empathy, and let the ingredients fix. Blend in a rainbow of hope. Season well; a pinch of experience, a gentle of time, joy to

taste. Whip up some happiness. As you spin round the block three times, wave to your neighbours two metres apart. Season to your

own taste as everyone’s dish is their own. The joy of life’s recipe is there is no set ingredients.
Gently fold in friends’ laughter as this will

ensure a lightness to your day. Add expectation little by little, or the mixture will curdle. Knead gently, set aside to prove

Say thanks to the ones making the cake.
Sprinkle with hope and Love and Joy.
Serve at once, or store for later; Joy lasts

eternal. Let the compassion rise for an hour bake and then serve first to self and then to others and consume joyfully. Then do it all

over again! Fold in full notes and phrases of dawn chorus and good dashes of springtime sun. Stir well and add as much hope as you

have to hand. Rub your techie ignorance into your need for connection, season well with native wit…and bake a delicious cake of new

video chat. Kneading birdsong into your day, add a pinch of hope, a sprinkle of goodness and essence of kind. This will truly be a

delightful treat for all to find. Spread far and wide, to bus drivers, posties, neighbours, and nurses, on doorsteps, window sills, homeless

shelters, empty park benches. Stirring up memories of how you looked in a Spring cotton dress, remember to share equally. Mix in some

essence of nature, cherry blossom and petals of spring flowers, ten drops each of Sense, Rhythm and Blues for balance…first whisking

to a froth.Allow the mixture to rest for a few moments…then add a few drops of essence of pure love .. stirring gently…. Enjoy.

Finally, spread it thick and far around the world, add cat purrs and baby laughs to sprinkle over everyone like fairy dust. Discard

seeds of hurt, soak sadness in strong, grateful spirit, cover with cloth of certain hope and leave overnight. Consume with a mindful relish

and plentiful gratitude. Allow the ingredients of generosity and love to penetrate your senses in order to share them bountifully.

Serve broken into a praline of bite-sized pieces,dusted with the sweet passing of time…
This is your recipe for joy.

Featured writer: Lynn Valentine

We are delighted to welcome Lynn Valentine as this month’s Featured Writer. Lynn, a talented and widely published poet, who read a particularly impressive set of poems at the Glasgow anthology event last month, has won the Cinnamon Press mentoring prize, to work towards her first collection. You can read more about her many achievements and enjoy her taut, sharply observed poem about a red kite below.

Lynn Valentine writes poetry but likes to write flash fiction and creative non-fiction too. Lynn is a former BBC online features journalist.  In 2011 she took voluntary redundancy and moved to the Black Isle where she began writing poetry and prose for herself, mainly inspired by the environment around her.

In 2013 she won the Glasgow Women’s Library Dragon’s Pen award giving her a boost in the belief of her writing. Lynn’s work has appeared online and in print editions in places such as Nitrogen House, Scottish Book Trust anthologies, the Scottish Poetry Library blog, Firth, Black Bough Poetry and Ink, Sweat and Tears.

In 2018 Lynn appeared at the Ness Book Fest in Inverness for a three-minute poetry slot supportingJohn Glenday. In 2019 Lynn was invited back for a feature slot doing a poetry showcase alongside two other poets.

Competitions that put a smile on Lynn’s face in 2019 were first prize for poetry in the Angus Writers’ Circle competition, winning the Nitrogen House flash fiction competition as well as winning the Black Isle Writers’ competition with a short story. She won the Cinnamon Press mentoring award for poetry and will be supported by them in 2020 with a view to organising her first collection.

Nature inspires Lynn’s writing and the Red Kites (birds) that she sees flying over the fields next to her house often feature in her work. This is a poem about that beloved bird published in 2018.

Milvus milvus

Your eye is a citrine flash,
better than any drone,
fishing in the wind
for small things.

There once was a myth you
could hunt dogs and lambs.
Take a child down
with your fork and claws.

These days your haul is
a kiss of earthworms,
a crunch of rabbit bones,
a smear of roadkill, still warm.

We will find laundry
stripped, rubbish spilled
as you line your nest.
Keeping our secrets close.

© Lynn Valentine 2020


Featured Writer: Stewart Ennis

We are delighted to welcome Stewart Ennis as  Featured Writer for February. Stewart’s new novel Blessed Assurance has been named as one of the Best Scottish Books 2019 by the Association of Scottish Literary Studies. He will be reading from it at Aye Write! in Glasgow and has been invited to read at this year’s Edinburgh Festival. The extract below exemplifies why his writing has earned so many accolades from ‘born stylist’ to ‘brilliantly crafted’. Even in this short excerpt the characters leap into life.

 Stewart was born in Bridge of Weir. He was a founding member of the Benchtours theatre creating many touring shows throughout the nineties and noughties. He was creative writing lecturer at HMP Shotts and edited Visiting Time, an anthology of prison writing. (Vagabond Voices 2019) His stories & poems have appeared in Gutter Magazine, The Curlew, The Caterpillar , National Poetry Day Anthology and other anthologies. Plays include, The Darkroom, Robert Burns’ Celtic Complex, One Straight Line, The Taking of Zena Charbonne and The Monster & Mary Shelley. In 2019 he was awarded the Aberdeen-Curtin Alliance scholarship to study a PhD at Aberdeen University & Curtin University, Perth, Australia. Blessed Assurance (Vagabond Voices 2019) is his first novel.

 CHAPTER SIX of The Blessed Assurance

Walking in the Counsel of the UnGodly

Archie Truman was two months younger than Joseph, a good four inches shorter and about as far away from Joseph Kirkland’s uptight rigidity and God-fearing gaucheness as you could possibly get. He was an unclean, underfed wee skelf of a boy, a dirty shilpit elf of a boy, always dressed – come wind come weather – in his trademark thin greasy anorak, shorts and sandshoes, all of them worn and frayed. All of him was worn and frayed. There was barely a square inch of him that wasn’t scratched or bruised. His finger nails were black, his cheeks shiny from layer upon layer of grime mixed with smeared snot from an endlessly runny nose that had dried hard on his face like varnish. He looked like a wooden marionette with his Andy Pandy retroussé nose, his big round pale blue puppet eyes that were painted forever wide open, fixed in a state of utter astonishment, and thick tufts of carrot red hair that seemed to have been drilled into his skull in oddly cut clumps. He walked towards Joseph like he walked through life, in a loose limbed string-cut swagger, kicking the hell out of whatever lay in his path: tin cans, stones, people.

His six old sister, wee Maggie, skipped along at his side. Where else would she be? She had the same blue eyes, red hair, the same turned up button nose, but unlike her beloved big brother, wee Maggie was well-fed, well-groomed, immaculately turned-out, and dressed to fight the weather. Archie saw to all that, always, without fail.

“Look at me,” he said, walking backwards until the fog had completely enveloped him, “I’m The Invisible Man,” and reappeared, “Did you know The Invisible Man was naked?”

“Archie!” said wee Maggie, giggling now, “That’s rude, so it is Joseph?”

“He was! Bare bum, everything! He couldn’t make his clothes and shoes and things invisible, so he had to take them off. Except his specs. He had to keep them on or else he’d end up bumping into folk.” Wee Maggie was still giggling at naked and bums, so Archie had to say it again, “It’s just you couldn’t see his bum even though he was naked because his bum was invisible. Imagine that. Imagine having an invisible naked bum.” Wee Maggie imagined and giggled even more. So Archie wiggled his bum, trying to send her off into hysterics, “I wonder if The Invisible Man did invisible jobbies…”

This was Archie’s main business in life, to see his wee sister happy and laughing, all the time. And this was what Joseph needed in his life; happy-go-lucky Archie, devil-may-care Archie, a down-to-earth, of-this-earth Archie Truman. He glanced around in case Mrs Chaddock or anybody else from the Hall might see him talking to Archie Truman.

Joseph Kirkland, the Fake Friend.

© Stewart Ennis 2020


Submissions open for next FWS Anthology

This year’s New Voices Press Anthology is now open for submissions. Submissions are invited from **FWS MEMBERS ONLY** until March 20th 2020 for the next anthology. Poems, stories and other literary compositions or graphics should be submitted according to the layout, size and number indicated in our guide for submissions at https://federationofwritersscotland.wordpress.com/members-publications/new-voices-press-2/submission-guidelines/

When ready, the submissions should be sent to Janet Crawford at janet94crawford@gmail.com.

Successful contributors will be notified by 11 May

Note: members are strongly advised not to submit material until they haveread the guidelines for submissions. NVP cannot offer editorial advice in advance of selection or accept submissions which do not meet the selection criteria. Please particularly note that we can only accept submissions in Word doc. or docx format. NOT rtf or pdf and that each piece submitted should be sent in a separate document.

Featured writer: Lydia Harris

We are delighted to welcome Lydia Harris as this month’s Featured Writer. Lydia, who is one of several members living on Scottish islands (she lives in the Orkneys), joined the Federation after winning the poetry category in the 2017 Vernal Equinox Competition. She was commended in the 2018 competition and has had many other successes, as you can read below, along with her prizewinning poem The Oxygen Concentrator which well demonstrates her gift for precise observation of and responsiveness to the natural world around her, and the quietly devastating emotional charge of her understated style.

Lydia Harris has made her home in Westray, Orkney. In 2017 she held a New Writer’s Award from the Scottish Book Trust. Her first pamphlet ‘Glad Not to be the Corpse’ was published by Smiths Knoll in 2012, followed by ‘An Unbolted Door’ (Maquete) in 2018 and ‘Painting the Stones Back’ ( Coast to Coast to Coast) in 2019. She leads the Westray Writers and is an enthusiastic Poetry School student. Her poem, ‘Oxygen Concentrator’ (below) was Commended in the Troubadour Competition 2019.

Oxygen Concentrator
( with 3 lines from George Low’s ‘Fauna Orcadensis’)

My mother’s breath rasps through the gurnard’s terminal mouth.
This fish, a very quick swimmer, when hauled on board,
makes a sort of croaking plaintive noise.

My mother’s breath rattles in her throat. The gurnard thrashes
and this for some considerable time.

No ease either, for the whale trapped among Brian’s creels,
snagged in the lines.

My mother’s lost the word for haven, when she grunts something,
like an angry person growling.

Margaret, we call. Fieldfares look up, moving past
the noise of the oxygen concentrator.

 ©  Lydia Harris 2020

Blog of the month: Brian Hamill

Blog of the Month We are delighted to welcome Brian Hamill as this month’s blogger of the month. Brian, who will be familiar to many members as the submissions editor of thi wurd books, has started up a new community blog to allow writers to showcase their work. Read on.

Works In Progress Community Blog /// Fiction and Essays

The Common Breath is a new publishing imprint based in Glasgow, and managed by Brian Hamill. The original intention for the website was to be an online repository of Brian’s own writing, fiction and non-fiction, published and unpublished, but after several years of bringing the writing of others to print through his previous position as Submissions Editor for thi wurd books, Brian wished to continue this work. Therefore, the Works In Progress literary community blog was created as part of thecommonbreath.com.

Inspired by the 1999 release of a Tim Buckley album of the same title which contains some of the singer’s different takes and experiments in studio in 1968/69, the Works In Progress blog is a place for writers to have their work published online in a matter of days if accepted, and where they have the ability to submit new drafts and update their work, or remove it after a period. There are no limits on length, style, content, etc. There will be print publication opportunities in the very near future also. All FWS members are invited to read the blog content and to submit their work. Please follow @thecommonbreath to make contact.