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Makar’s poetry workshop

Finola Scott, our Makar, held the latest of her enjoyable poetry workshops as part of her virtual tour on Thursday 22 October 2020. Finola inspired and led the group to tap into their emotions and memories. Some lively discussion resulted with folk sharing their ideas. By the end of the workshop every poet attending had developed their own personal poem or reflection, one to read in the workshop and another to be developed in the future. Subjects ranged greatly from comfort, love, embarrassment, disappointment, reminiscence, wrong choices and even humour, involving all of the senses. What an abundance of talent we have amongst our members. Finola, thank you for providing such inspiration, the time flew by. And thank you to the contributors who brought so much to the event.

Arbroath anthology

I had no idea what to expect when I looked at the submissions – all with pseudonyms so identities were concealed. I was delighted by the diversity of petitioners. A great deal of wit was on display, but many heartfelt and poignant pieces too. I greatly enjoyed reading them, and I hope you do too. Thanks to all who sent submissions. Don’t forget if you are a FWS member you have a right of reply – see below.

The twenty-fourth up is Stephen Barnaby, whose ‘Respectful Petition’ in the assembled voices of ‘Representatives of the Council of Seagulls, Pigeons, Rats, Mice, Cockroaches et al’ comes at the problem of human depredation of the planet from a highly original and very telling perspective. Who are the real vermin?

Stephen, who judged last year’s Flash Fiction competition, says of himself ‘Stephen Barnaby was born in Lancashire, grew up in Caithness and lives just outside Edinburgh. He has mainly written 50 word stories over the years but occasionally exhausts himself with longer forays.’

and says of his piece (link below): ‘No single comment necessarily inspired this piece, more a long term build up of annoyance over hearing people demean creatures who, unlike us, actually have an identifiable purpose within the ecosystem.’

I’m delighted too to be able to bring you contributions from our current Makar Finola Scott and our current Scriever Charlie Gracie. These will remain accessible on the web-site until all the posts from contributors have been displayed and will of course appear also in the printed version of the anthology.

You can read Finola’s rousing call to all ‘Braw Lassies’, originally written for a Stellar Quines project, at

You can read Charlie’s letter to Mother Earth, a masterly deployment of Swiftian irony (think ‘A Modest Proposal’) at

Any comments on any of the pieces published should be sent direct to me at Don’t forget if you are a Federation member not already accepted for the Arbroath anthology you can write a response to the poems posted. Email me at the above address for details.

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 ( 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


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