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

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

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.’


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.


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

Featured writer: Catherine Simpson

We are delighted to welcome Catherine Simpson as our Featured Writer. Catherine’s memoir When I Had a Little Sister has received national acclaim. You can immediately see why in the riveting extract from the first chapter below.

When I Had a Little Sister, was published in Feb 2019 by Fourth Estate. It tells the story of the death by suicide of her little sister, Tricia. Reviews included: ‘A superb memoir’ – The Sunday Times; ‘A poignant memoir…a considerable achievement’ – The Times; ‘gripping and heart-wrenching’ – The Mail on Sunday; ‘brave and elegiac’ – the Bookseller; ‘tormented, riveting and bleakly funny’ – The Observer.

Catherine received a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award for the opening chapters of Truestory, her debut novel, which went on to be published by Sandstone Press in 2015. Truestory was inspired by Catherine’s experiences of raising her autistic daughter, Nina.

Chapter One When I Had a Little Sister

Saturday 7th December 2013, late afternoon

I peer into the bathroom and from here the room looks like a tableau with the main character removed. On the wooden floor is a striped mug half-full of cold coffee. I move closer and see the milk cold and pale, risen to the top. Beside the mug is a packet of opened cigarettes, not Tricia’s usual baccy and Rizla papers, and next to that her blue plastic lighter. There are four floating dog-ends in the toilet bowl.

It is dark outside and gloomy in, and the house is filled with a terrible quiet.

Tricia must have sat on the bathroom floor with her back to the radiator long enough to smoke four cigarettes, dragging hard, taking the smoke deep into her lungs and holding it, holding it, for long seconds at a time, before blowing it out of the side of her mouth, eyes squint, then when she’d got down to the filters grinding out the butts and dropping them in the toilet bowl one after the other. She was smoking in the bathroom to help her cut down – she had banned herself from smoking anywhere else in the house because she wanted to be healthy.

On the night she died she was still trying to be healthy.


When did she decide to die? Was it before midnight on Friday the 6th, because she couldn’t face another night, or was it before dawn on Saturday the 7th, because she couldn’t face another day?

Did she think about us? Did she think about her dog, Ted, or her cat, Puss, sleeping on Grandma Mary’s old sofa in the conservatory and who would be waiting for her to feed them in the morning? What about her horses in the stable – Billy and Sasha – who she called her ‘babies’? Did she think about them? Did she imagine Dad finding her? It would have to be Dad, after all. It couldn’t be anyone else.

Did she know what she was doing?

© Catherine Simpson 2019