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. 

 Gathering
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

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

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

 

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

FWS Vernal Equinox Competition Opens

Federation of Writers Scotland Vernal Equinox Competition 2021

 ****DEADLINE: midnight on 30 April 2021****

For names of judges and what they are looking for go to https://federationofwritersscotland.com/2020/02/10/vernal-equinox-competition-judges-2/

Prizes in each category: 1st prize £100, 2nd prize £25, 3rd prize £10

 Rules of Entry

  1. There will be five categories: open poetry; open short stories; open flash fiction; poetry or flash fiction in Scottish Gaelic; poetry or flash fiction in Scots. Entrants may submit an unlimited number of entries in each category provided they are accompanied by the correct entry fee. The same poem or piece of flash fiction may be entered for the Scots competition and for the appropriate category of the open competition, provided that it is accompanied by the correct entry fee. The same poem or piece of flash fiction may be entered for the Scottish Gaelic competition and in its English form (if translated by the entrant) for the appropriate category of the open competition, provided that it is accompanied by the correct entry fee. In both cases the open competition category selected counts as a separate category.

See 17 below for fee structure which is the same across all categories

  1. No entrant may receive more than one prize in each category.
  2. Entry is open: you do not have to be a member of the Federation of Writers (Scotland).
  3. In the poetry category you may submit an unlimited number of entries accompanied by the appropriate fee. No poem should exceed forty lines in length excluding the title. Please indicate the number of lines at the end of the poem.
  4. In the short story category you may submit an unlimited number of stories not exceeding 2000 words in length accompanied by the appropriate fee. Any story submitted in this category which is less than 501 words in length will automatically be transferred to the Flash Fiction category for judging. The fee will not be affected since the fees are now the same for both categories. Please indicate the word count at the end of the story.
  5. In the flash fiction category you may submit an unlimited number of pieces not exceeding 500 words in length accompanied by the appropriate fee. Please indicate the word count at the end of the story.
  6. In the Scottish Gaelic category you may submit an unlimited number of poems and/or flash fiction accompanied by the appropriate fee. No poem should exceed forty lines in length excluding the title. Please indicate the number of lines at the end of the poem. No flash fiction story should exceed 500 words in length. Please indicate the word count at the end of the piece. 
  7. In the Scots category you may submit an unlimited number of poems and/or flash fiction accompanied by the appropriate fee. No poem should exceed forty lines in length excluding the title. Please indicate the number of lines at the end of the poem. No flash fiction story should exceed 500 words in length. Please indicate the word count at the end of the piece. 
  8. Work submitted must be in English, Scots or Scottish Gaelic and must be your own work (no translations of others’ work or poems which are ‘erasures’ of another’s text).
  9. No work submitted should have been previously published/broadcast/e-published or posted on-line in any form.
  10. Entries must be typewritten, double-spaced (single-spacing is acceptable for poems) on one side only of A4 paper using at least a 12pt font and, if sent by email, sent as a Word or rtf document. Please do not send in any other format. Please number each page. No name or other mark which could identify the author should appear on any page of the entry which should be accompanied by a cover sheet setting out your name, address and email address, the category or categories entered, the number and title(s) of entries, the total fee due and the method of payment.
  11. If you are sending your entry by post please use a paperclip to secure pages NOT a staple and send two copies of each entry.
  12. Entries will not be returned so please keep a copy of your entry.
  13. No alteration can be made to an entry once submitted.
  14. The judges’ decision is final. The judges cannot enter into any correspondence regarding entries. The organisers reserve the right to withhold prizes in any category if the number of entries received is insufficient or if entries received are judged not to meet the required standard.
  15. Closing date for the competition is midnight on 30 April 2021.
  16. Entry fee is £4 for first entry in any one category, £8 for two entries in any one category, £10 for three entries in any one category, £3 for each subsequent entry (after the first three) in any one category. The five categories are:

Open Poetry (which may be in Scots or English)

Open Short Story (which may be in Scots or English)

Open Flash Fiction (which may be in Scots or English)

Scottish Gaelic (poetry and flash fiction)

Scots (Poetry and flash fiction 

  1. Failure to comply with the above rules or to pay the appropriate entry fee will result in automatic disqualification.
  2. Successful entrants will be notified by July 6 2021. All entrants will be sent a list of results after July 6 when the results are officially announced.

How to enter

By email

Email your entry with a completed cover sheet (see 11 above) as a Word or rtf document to acclarke6@btopenworld.com to arrive by midnight on 30 April 2021. Email submission of entries is preferred.

By post

Send your entry (two copies) with a separate cover sheet (see 10 above) to:
Competition Secretary
0/1 25 Craigmillar Rd
Glasgow
G42 9JZ

If you are submitting the same entry for both the Scottish Gaelic or Scots competition and the appropriate category in the open competition please make sure you have clearly indicated this in your cover sheet and have paid the appropriate fees. If you have any query about fees please don’t hesitate to email me at acclarke6@btopenworld.com

All entrants: Send the appropriate fee (see 16 above) by bank transfer to Account No.12874968, sort code 80-22-60 (name of account Federation of Writers (Scotland), Bank of Scotland) using as identification your name followed by ‘comp21’. If you are not able to send money by bank transfer please send a cheque or postal order (pounds sterling only) made out to The Federation of Writers (Scotland) by post to the address above.  If you are not able to send money either by bank transfer or cheque (because e.g. you live abroad) please contact the competition secretary at acclarke6@btopenworld.com

Please ensure that you indicate your method of payment on the cover sheet

Email entries will be acknowledged on receipt.

Postal entrants wishing confirmation that their entries have been received should either include their email address on their cover sheet or enclose a stamped addressed postcard.

 No entries will be entered in the competition until the entry fee has been received.

PLEASE NOTE: Proof of posting does not mean proof of delivery.

Once an entry has been submitted and the fee paid please do not contact the competition secretary unless the piece you submitted has been accepted for publication elsewhere or placed in another competition prior to 6 July, which would automatically disqualify it.

Featured writer: Eileen Farrelly

We are delighted to welcome Eileen Farrelly as this month’s Featured Writer and Committee Member. Eileen has only just joined the committee, as she explains below, but she is full of enthusiasm and, as you can see from the poem below, a compelling and talented poet.

Eileen writes of her membership of the FWS Committee ‘Although I have been a member of the FWS for several years I have only recently joined the committee. As a new member I see myself as currently serving a sort of apprenticeship and hope that as I develop a greater understanding of the Federation’s work, I will find the best ways to use my skills. As a member I have enjoyed many excellent workshops and events organised by the FWS and was delighted to have one my poems included in the Landfall Anthology. Such events are a great way for newer writers find their way into the world of writing, performing and publication. I am particularly keen to get involved with helping at these events to give others the chance to benefit from them as I have done.’

She writes of herself  ‘I have written poetry off and on for most of my life but in recent years have been working more consciously at developing my craft and submitting work for publication. Most recently my poems have appeared in The Gladrag issue 7, Product and Marble Issue 5. My subject matter varies widely but I am often inspired by the ordinary things that trigger long forgotten memories.  I am also a singer/songwriter and can be found singing and playing in various pubs around Glasgow.

I have selected this poem as I feel it is one that writers can relate to – as a writer we often reveal ourselves on the page in ways that can be unsettling not just for the writer but also, sometimes for the reader.’

OPEN BOOK

I try not to see you
between the sheets
of crisp white paper
pressed and bound
to please the casual reader

Try not to overhear
whispered secrets
as the ink spreads
like a Rorschach blot
across the centrefold

Or give names to the players
the walk-ons,
the shadowy muse,
that hovers in the margins
and in the gutter.

(First published in The Gladrag, Issue 7, August 2019)

©  Eileen Farrelly 2019

Featured writer: Jonathan Whitelaw

We are delighted to welcome Jonathan Whitelaw as this month’s Featured Writer. Jonathan has won critical acclaim for his novels which are unusual thrillers with a metaphysical, indeed a devilish twist. The excerpt below will whet your appetite for more.

Jonathan is an author, journalist and broadcaster. After working on the frontline of Scottish politics, he moved into journalism. Subjects he has covered have varied from breaking news, the arts, culture and sport to fashion, music and even radioactive waste – with everything in between. He’s also a regular reviewer and talking head on shows for the BBC and STV. The Man in the Dark is a sequel to the bestselling HellCorp. His debut novel was the critically acclaimed Morbid Relations.

 Extract from The Man in the Dark
The Pope’s private quarters deep within Vatican City were quiet. Only an old, ticking clock on the mantelpiece disturbed the stillness of the place. It was peaceful, serene even, just what you’d expect from the office of an elderly man of great power.
All the hallmarks were there. The mahogany desk, the lack of computer, a set of reading glasses perched neatly on top of a writing ledger. There was even room for an old fashioned inkwell, two fountain pens with the Pope’s sigil branded up their shaft.
Light was easily flowing into the room from an open window. The sky outside was warm and blue, the first hints of a Roman summer making everything very comfortable. The clock ticked on and on, stopping for no one, even if there was nobody around to hear it. Nobody but the large, ornate crucifix that hung from the opposite wall. It wasn’t going to mind the noise.
It was just as well. The second hand ticked over, then over again, then over for a third time. But, where the fourth consecutive tick should have sounded, there was nothing. Ordinarily this would have been cause for concern. However, this was the heart of the Catholic church. Out of the ordinary wasn’t always out of the ordinary. For an institution founded on fable, legend and tradition, the non-ticking of a clock was hardly a reason to think the world was ending.
And besides. The battery had probably just run out. Not that there was anybody around to hear or notice the silence. The crucifix on the wall wasn’t going to change the double As.
Only there was cause for concern. A pretty big cause for concern. The last time the clocks had stopped in Vatican City, there had been a visitor. In the short time since that incident, the story had become the stuff of myth. This was the Catholic Church, it liked to keep its secrets secret. But this one had, pardon the expression, spread like wildfire.
The Pope had never been the same since that night. His hair had turned whiter, his eyes a little wilder. Gone was the good sense and diplomacy expected of a modern world leader. In its place the rantings and ravings of a Dark Ages fanatic.

©  Jonathan Whitelaw 2019

Featured Writer: Alun Robert

We are delighted to welcome Alun Robert as a Featured Writer. If you follow the monthly list of successes in the newsmail you cannot fail to notice that Alun regularly features there. There hasn’t been a single month for quite some time when he has not had a poem published or placed in a competition – this month is no exception – a most impressive consistency and a shining example of the rewards of sending work out regularly. He is also a contributor to this year’s anthology (see attached list). Alun has chosen to write a poem specially for the newsmail and his ingenious poem in the shape of a (Scottish) pine-tree is both clever and poignant in its link of the poet’s life to the tree’s. His biography follows his poem.

FWS In Dialogue With Pinus Sylvestris Format Rerevised

© Alun Robert 2019

Biography A Scot of Irish ancestry, Alun Robert is a prolific creator of lyrical free verse mainly in English but occasionally in the Doric. He has achieved success in poetry competitions across UK and Canada including Highly Commended in the FWS Vernal Equinox 2018. His work has been published in British, Irish and American literary magazines, anthologies and zines. Of late, he has been a regular contributor to Ekphrastic Review, Nine Muses, Words for the Wild and Visual Verse. Recently, his poetry featured in the Limerick Soviet Centenary, James Watt Bicentenary, Exhausting A Place In Leicester and the impending New Voices anthologies.

Featured Writer: Olive Ritch

We are delighted to welcome Olive Ritch as our Featured Writer. As her biography shows, Olive is a distinguished poet and editor (not many poets get into the prestigious Poetry Review or are broadcast on Radio 4). Her subtly unsettling poem below,The Hand Game, rewards close reading.

Olive M. Ritch is an award-winning poet from Orkney. She now lives in Aberdeen and her work has been published in many literary magazines, anthologies and websites, including Poetry Review, Agenda, Gutter, New Writing Scotland, The Poetry Cure, and In Protest: 150 Poems for Human RightsShe was co-founding editor of Causeway / Cabhsair(published by the Research Institute of Irish and Scottish Studies at the University of Aberdeen) and co-editor of More Medical Remedies: Creative Writing for Medical Students. She has also been broadcast on BBC Radio 4. She hopes to publish a pamphlet / collection in the near future. You can read more of her work in the Scottish Poetry Library.

The Hand Game

Let not thy left hand know
what thy right hand doeth –
and let not your mother
hide their secrets in silence,
for only she knows the stories that lie
in the lines of the palms
of your hands. She knows
but cannot speak the words, tongue-tied.
Slumped in her chair,
she takes from your hand
the medicine, three-times daily
and smells your nicotine breath
when you tuck her in at night
before switching off the light. Sometimes
you creep back in and your mother knows
the colour of your filial love
from the tone of the touch
of your Hyde or Jekyll hand.

© Olive Ritch 2019

Featured writer: Jim Aitken

We are delighted to welcome Jim Aitken as our Featured Writer. Jim is well-known on the Scottish literary scene for his heartfelt, often politically charged poetry and drama and his range of subjects. Wind and Wave – below – finds him in a more contemplative mood but the poem’s unexpected conclusion roots it in the specific. You can read one of Jim’s stories (he is a multi-talented writer) published on CultureMatters.

Jim Aitken’s last poetry collection was ‘Flutterings’ 2016 and his last play produced was ‘Letters from Area C’ directed by Karen Douglas of SpartaKi in 2017. Jim also tutors in Scottish Cultural Studies in Edinburgh and organises Literary Walks for groups around the city. He also works with the Outlook programme teaching creative writing for people with mental health issues.

His new play ‘Rosa’, about the life of Rosa Luxemburg, will be staged at the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh in November 2019.

WIND AND WAVE

Clouds race across the sky
like mountain ranges on the run
and the dry sand skirts the beach
like a thousand plumes of smoke descending.

Only the gulls glide, hover and soar
for they believe this day is theirs
as our softness keeps us domestically indoors
while they brace the art of the elemental life.

All things will pass just like this wind
and what the wind and the sea
have blown on to the beach below
other winds and seas will take away.

And the piece of broken glass that lies
among the sea shells, smoothed by unseen salt
makes me wonder if I lay down there
would my jagged edges be washed away?

© Jim Aitken 2019