The complete POTB Blog.
- Across the Silent Sea: A Novel by Gabrielle Barnby (Lily Greenall, posted 24 Oct 2023)
- View from American Poet, Elizabeth McCarthy (Elizabeth McCarthy, posted 21 Sep 2023)
- Q&A with Loraine Mudie, WordsUp presenter (Naomi Greenwood, posted 6 Aug 2023)
- POTB at Books and Beans June 2023 (Roger White, posted 1 Jul 2023)
- Final Words Up on shmu FM (Webmaster, posted 19 Jun 2023)
- Programme 8: An interview with Alison Green
- Photos from the launch of Issue 17 (Hilda Frewin (photographer) and Aenea Reid (album maker), posted 2 Jun 2023)
- The Launch of Issue 17 (Roger White, posted 24 May 2023)
- More Words Up on shmu FM (Webmaster, posted 26 Mar 2023)
- Programme 7: An interview with Martin Walsh
- Programme 6: An interview with Vivien Jones
- Programme 5: An interview with Heather Reid
- Programme 4: An interview with Douglas Bruton
- Oils well that ends well (Lily Greenall, posted 30 Jan 2023)
- Then vs Now: A Time Before (Erin Moore, posted 30 Jan 2023)
- Reflections from a prose panellist (Jan Simpson, posted 20 Dec 2022)
- Words Up on shmu FM (Webmaster, posted 16 Dec 2022)
- Programme 3: An interview with Eleanor Fordyce
- Programme 2: An interview with John Bolland
- Programme 1: An interview with POTB Editor, Lily Greenall
- Crowdfunding - how did we do? (Aenea Reid, posted 3 Jun 2022)
- The Boat sails again - our first post-Covid live event (Roger White, posted 4 May 2022)
- Walrus (Martin Walsh, posted 22 Feb 2022)
- Chapter One - Encounter
- Chapter Two - What do you give a Walrus for Breakfast?
- Chapter Three - Ina Seivwright
- Chapter Four - Dr Hazlett
- Chapter Five - The Open Sea
- Pushing Out the Boat at the WayWORD Festival 2021 (Lily Greenall, posted 10 Oct 2021)
- Launch of Issue 16 (Roger White, posted 19 May 2021)
- Q & A with Freda Hasler (Roger White, posted 29 Jan 2021)
- Pushing Out the Boat at the WayWORD Festival (Lily Greenall, posted 3 Oct 2020)
- Pushing Out the Boat in the time of corona (Roger White, posted 19 Aug 2020)
- Martin Walsh and Freda Hasler – a tribute (Judy Taylor and Lily Greenall, posted 30 May 2020)
- Introducing Lily Greenall, the new POTB Editor (Martin Walsh, posted 5 Mar 2020)
- An Appreciation of Gerard Rochford (Judith Taylor, posted 6 Feb 2020)
- Coordinator/Project Manager opportunity (POTB Team, posted 13 Nov 2019)
- FROM THE ARABIAN NIGHT PATROL TO POTB (Ian Thewlis (aka Peter Sheal), posted 14 Oct 2019)
- POTB needs your help! (POTB Team, posted 19 Sep 2019)
- Pushing Out the Boat at Aberdeen University Mayfest (Roger White, posted 31 May 2019)
- Launch of Pushing Out the Boat Issue 15 (Martin Walsh, posted 29 Apr 2019)
- A Seasonal Bouquet from Pushing Out the Boat (Roger White, posted 19 Nov 2018)
- Editing POTB: a peek behind the scenes (Roger White, posted 1 Aug 2018)
- Pushing Out the Boat Reading Event at Books and Beans (Roger White, posted 2 May 2018)
- Gallery of Young Artists' Work (POTB, posted 13 Feb 2018)
- Hannah Kunzlik: I rewrote Matilda at the age of six (POTB, posted 9 Jan 2018)
- Donnie Ross: Perceiving things differently (POTB, posted 14 Oct 2017)
- An interview with Sheena Blackhall (POTB, posted 1 Sep 2017)
- An interview with Stephen Pacitti (POTB, posted 15 Aug 2017)
- An Interview with Heather Reid (POTB, posted 19 Jul 2017)
- Love to Write? Advice from John Bolland (POTB, posted 21 Jun 2017)
- An Interview with Martin Walsh (POTB, posted 31 May 2017)
- Reflections on the Launch of Pushing Out the Boat Issue 14 (Yani Georgieva & Harrison Abbott, posted 16 May 2017)
- An Interview with Tom Hammick (POTB, posted 7 May 2017)
- John Mackie: a recollection (Judith Taylor, posted 20 Apr 2017)
- Scottish PEN - defending the freedom of writers and readers (Ian Crockatt, posted 24 Mar 2017)
- Poems for Valentine's Day (Blog Editor, posted 14 Feb 2017)
- Curried Kisses (E E Chandler, from Issue 11 of POTB, posted 14 Feb 2017)
- The Love Calculations of the Gentleman Spider (Maureen Ross, from Issue 11 of POTB, posted 10 Feb 2017)
- Sexy Shoes (Kate Percival, from Issue 3 of POTB, posted 9 Feb 2017)
- Driving Back (Robert Ramsay, from Issue 5 of POTB, posted 7 Feb 2017)
- Welcome to the POTB Blog (POTB, posted 6 Feb 2017)
Across the Silent Sea: A Novel by Gabrielle Barnby
posted on 24 October 2023
Pushing Out the Boat is always pleased to discover other work published by our contributors. In this post our outgoing editor Lily Greenall reviews a work close to her heart.
This month, we were delighted to notice the release of a new novel, Across the Silent Sea, by regular Pushing Out the Boat contributor Gabrielle Barnby. The novel is set on Orkney and follows the journey of a local young woman, Esther, who has returned home to live with her parents in the aftermath of a traumatic accident. Following Esther’s attempts to piece her life back together, the novel deftly explores complex topics like addiction, family dynamics, and identity, and opens a dialogue about the way society treats those who suffer from mental illness and chronic pain. Esther’s witty internal monologue is the razor-sharp driving force of the novel and effortlessly draws the reader into her budding friendship with rebellious newcomer, Claudette, and struggling local musician, Marcus. Barnby paints a compelling and compassionate portrait of a large, close-knit family, who struggle in different ways to adapt to the changes in Esther.
The scenic island setting lends an extra unique charm to the novel’s events but also adds a refreshing sense of reality and tangibility to the story. Stripped of any cliched sense of romanticised Scottishness, the Orkney setting has a brilliantly lived-in feel and gives a strong sense of real people in a small place – something that, as a reader and fellow islander, I really appreciated. The beautiful sunsets and majestic sea views are balanced out with slate-grey winter days where the rain never stops and transportation issues – all part and parcel of life in a remote, northern place.
Across the Silent Sea is partially based on transcripts from a real Orkney witch trial that took place in 1643 and in which a disabled woman, named Esther Russell, was accused of various acts of sorcery. Updated to a contemporary setting and only loosely informing events in the plot, this story forms a fascinating backdrop to Barnby’s novel.
Gabrielle Barnby lives in Orkney. She has published several works of fiction, including her novel, The Oystercatcher Girl, a poetry collection, A Way Out, And a Way In, and a short story collection, The House with Lilac Shutters. Several of her poems also feature in Issue 16 and Issue 17 of Pushing Out the Boat. More examples of her work can be found on her website. Across the Silent Sea was published by Sparsile Books and is also available to buy on Amazon Kindle and at Waterstones.
View from American Poet, Elizabeth McCarthy
posted on 21 September 2023
POTB is lucky to receive submissions from around the world, not just Scotland and the North East. Poet Elizabeth McCarthy, from the United States, noted she’d have loved to join our recent in-person launch of Issue 17, if only it weren’t for the 3,000 miles of distance she’d have to travel. Luckily for us, Elizabeth kindly agreed to send in her own blog post detailing her personal experience with poetry.
When my copy of Pushing Out the Boat, Issue #17 arrived, I was immediately impressed by the quality of both poetry and print with its riveting artwork throughout the magazine, particularly the vibrant colors and graphic design of its cover by Orla Stevens. This magazine sits on our coffee table as a display of beauty and identity. As a poet, I’m proud to have my poem, “Scuttled Memories” published with so many amazing poets from the north-east of Scotland and beyond. I was particularly happy to see that my fellow Lockdown Poet, Suzanne van Leendert from the Netherlands, has her poem, “Return to Sender” in this issue as well.
I live in an old farmhouse in northern Vermont, in Caledonia County, named to commemorate the large number of Scottish settlers in this area. Retired from teaching, I started writing poetry when the world closed down for the pandemic in 2020. Looking to connect with other poets, I met Ian Aitken, founder of the Lockdown Poets of Aberdeen, Scotland, in an online chat-room for the Billy Collins Facebook broadcast where he mentioned his online poetry group. This small group of a dozen or so poets have met online via Zoom most every Tuesday for the past three years, sharing and discussing poetry. We recently self-published a collection of our poetry called, “Lockdown Poets – still here” where all proceeds from the book goes to the Cornhill Community Centre of Aberdeen, Scotland which assists disadvantaged families in their area, also a sponsor of The Lockdown Poets.
I find comfort in being part of this world-wide poetry community that holds center in the north-east of Scotland, and appreciate the acceptance of the many poetic voices from distant shores.
About the time I joined the Lockdown Poets, I became a member of the Poetry Society of Vermont. I recently redesigned their website where you’ll find a link to my chapbook “Winter Vole” which was published in 2022 by Finishing Line Press, in 2024 they will be publishing my second chapbook, “Hard Feelings.”
Many thanks to Elizabeth for her inspiring insight – we hope she continues to branch out with her work. Find “Scuttled Memories” alongside many more fantastic poems, stories and artwork in POTB Issue 17.
Q&A with Loraine Mudie, WordsUp presenter
posted on 6 August 2023
Throughout the COVID lockdown, local radio station shmu fm’s Loraine Mudie hosted eight interviews with a group of our talented POTB contributors, in a show titled “Words Up”. PR Manager for the magazine, Naomi Greenwood carried out an interview to get an inside scoop of Loraine’s own experience with the arts.
Q&A with shmu fm’s Loraine Mudie
Now that shmu fm’s Words Up series has come to a close, we couldn’t resist making the most out of host Loraine Mudie’s affiliation with POTB – she’s been fantastic, after all.
What sparked your interest in the Arts?
I have been interested in the Arts since secondary school. I was involved in school plays and won the Drama prize in my final year. I was so in love with drama that I wanted to go to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in Glasgow. However in the 60’s nobody left home to go to University. My father wouldn’t allow it so I went to medical school and ended up being a Physics Teacher. I am still involved with amateur dramatics.
How did you get into radio presenting?
I went on a radio training course in Glasgow at the RASMD. There I met Liz who lived in Glasgow. Near the end of the course we were chatting and I said I would like to use what we had just learned and approach a local radio station. To my astonishment Liz said she had a flat in Aberdeen which she visited quite regularly. We then approached SHMU radio with a plan to do a show which centred on the written word (stories and poems) rather than music and so this became the start of Words Up.
Talking with so many talented individuals, do you feel you have gained new understanding and appreciation for local talent? Are there any specific highlights or memorable moments from the shows?
I have gained a lot of understanding and appreciation of the authors I have interviewed. It has been truly wonderful. I hope they have also gained an understanding and appreciation of what we do here at SHMU. There were many special moments but it would be wrong of me to pick out one.
I know you’re a volunteer. It must take some effort to organise eight separate hour-long shows with authors, not all based locally, especially with various Covid restrictions. What were the challenges involved and how did you overcome them?
Yes, there were challenges. I identified a group of authors who had appeared more than twice in POTB magazine. Using Zoom we then chose material suitable for the show. A decision was made as to who would read the pieces. I would suggest appropriate music and what we would chat about. Authors would send me files with their readings which I would edit ready for the show. I would send out a plan for the show. For those who could come into the studio I would set aside two hours and use the first hour to go over the plan, allow the author to get used to the studio and do a sound check. Once recorded the show would be edited by myself ready for airing. For those who could not come into the studio we would record a Zoom call which I would later edit, add the music and the stories/poems.
Given your interest in our Pushing Out the Boat authors, do you do any creative writing yourself, and if so, what?
Unfortunately, no. I did have a poem in the school magazine when I was 7. English was my worst subject.
Do you have any more shows planned for shmu? Taking everything into account, what was it like working with Pushing Out the Boat? Do you feel it’s something that could be repeated in future?
No, I have no more shows planned this year. I decided to call a halt and retire gracefully. Who knows – maybe sometime in the future we can do all this again. I really enjoyed working with the authors who very graciously gave of their time and energy. The talent out here is tremendous. I would encourage all poets and writers to submit their work. POTB is a brilliant platform.
Pushing Out the Boat would like to give a huge thanks to Loraine, whose hard work and dedication to the magazine has been so enjoyable for readers and radio listeners alike.
POTB at Books and Beans June 2023
posted on 1 July 2023
North East literary types will know the institution that is Poetry at Books and Beans, a monthly evening of readings at the eponymous coffee/bookshop in Aberdeen’s Belmont Street. Coffee, a fine piece and good poetry. What more could you want?
Their format is straight-forward – a guest, or guests, reading and talking about their work in two parts with an open mic slot in between.
Thanks to Judy Taylor (and fellow organisers Jo Gilbert and Kimberley Petrie) the evening of 29th June was devoted to a selection of poets who feature in the latest edition of Pushing Out the Boat. Stepping forward to contribute were Alison Green, Bernie Briggs, Elaine Morrison, Gillian Shearer and Nicola Furrie Murphy, as well as Judy herself. Each read a piece from the latest issue of the magazine plus another poem.
Our commiserations to our editor Lily Greenall who was due to compere the evening but fell prey to a problem with island transport (where else have I heard that recently?).
If you don’t know Books and Beans, get along there to browse their eclectic stock of second hand (sorry, pre-loved) books. And make sure you check out Poetry at Books and Beans on the last Thursday of the month.
Our thanks to the poets who came along to read their work (photos below).
Final Words Up on shmu FM
posted on 19 June 2023
The arts programme Words Up on shmu FM ran a series of monthly broadcasts featuring Pushing Out the Boat in August 2022 – March 2023. The producers have kindly given us permission to publish copies of the broadcasts here for the benefit of those who were unable to listen live.
Here is the final programme in the series – an interview with Alison Green.
Other programmes in the series
- Programmes 1 – 3 (Lily Greenall, John Bolland and Eleanor Fordyce)
- Programmes 4 – 7 (Douglas Bruton, Heather Reid, Vivien Jones and Martin Walsh)
The presenter and interviewer for all the programmes is Loraine Mudie to whom a big thank-you is due for making these programmes and for all the kind words she said about Pushing Out the Boat during the interviews.
Programme 8: An interview with Alison Green
Broadcast 23 March 2023
Part 1 (12.5 mins): Introduction and welcome by Loraine, explaining her interest in Pushing Out the Boat and how she prepared for this show / Alison introduces herself and talks about speaking Doric and how it was discouraged when she was growing up/ Alison talks about how she started writing, then she gives the background to the story she’s going to read: Words O Wisdom frae my Omniscient Auntie [Issue 11, p66] / This is followed by music played on a tin whistle by Alison’s father, Alex Green
Part 2: (10 mins): Alison speaks about her father, Alex Green, and how he started playing the tin whistle / Alison reads her story The Six Wives O Harry Troup [Issue 12, p22]
Part 3: (7.5 mins): Alison describes the experience of submitting to Pushing Out the Boat with some good advice for submitters / Alison speaks about what she like to read / This segment ends with the music Whistling Rufus played by Alex Green
Part 4: (5 mins): Lorraine gives more details for Alex Green / Alison talks about the poem that has just been accepted for Issue 17, The Droont Quine [Issue 17, p14] / Loraine follows up with more information about Pushing Out the Boat / Loraine wraps up this interview and the series
Other programmes in the series
Photos from the launch of Issue 17
posted on 2 June 2023
Here are some photos taken at the launch of Issue 17 of Pushing Out the Boat on Sunday 21 May 2023 at the Phoenix Hall, Newton Dee, Aberdeen. A selection of contributors read poems and extracts from their stories and several of the contributing artists displayed their work in a small exhibition.
Click on a thumbnail below to view a slideshow of the event.
Scroll down for reflections on the event and full details of the programme.
The Launch of Issue 17
posted on 24 May 2023
Pushing Out the Boat Issue 17 was launched on 21 May at an event in the Phoenix Hall, Newton Dee, Aberdeen. A selection of contributors and team members read poems and stories from the new issue and artists displayed the originals of their artwork in the foyer area. Here’s a reflection on the event by our coordinator, Roger White.
Pushing Out the Boat Issue 17 Launch
Is it really two years ago your humble scribe dashed out a blog post on our last magazine launch? Time passes quickly when you’re … well, when you’re in full recovery mode from two years of pandemic.
It seems a lifetime ago that we huddled around our screens for Pushing Out the Boat’s first Covid-cautious online launch in 2021. Now we could actually see the whites of our readers’ and artists’ eyes and engage them in real conversation beyond a sterile ‘chat box’.
If you’ve not been to one of our face-to-face launches, that’s exactly what you get. A chance to hear and discuss great poems and stories read by their authors to an attentive audience, as well a chance to view art suddenly sprung to life from the constraints of the A4 page.
As always, it’s invidious to pick out individual contributions from such a wealth of creativity (see full list below). But let’s especially acknowledge those who joined us from afar for the afternoon – from Dundee (well, just down the road, really), Edinburgh, West Lothian, Glasgow and even Kent. Our thanks especially to our youngest contributor, Niah Thomas and her mum Anna, who were those travellers from Kent. We hope you enjoyed the event (sorry about the Aberdeen weather).
Our thanks also to our foreword author this year, Shane Strachan, the current National Library’s Scots Scriever. You can read his kind words about the magazine (‘a visual feast across beautiful artworks and well-crafted images of language …’) in full here, along with a sample of writing from Issue 17 and a slideshow of the art in the magazine.
As well as our published authors and artists, we added a sprinkling of team members for the first time, reading their favourite pieces from authors unable to attend the launch. It worked for us and we hope it worked for our guests.
The difference from our 2021 online launch was instructive. You can’t beat the real human contact and buzz of a live event. But technology allows contributors and fans from afar to join in. Last time, people logged in from, amongst other places, Italy, Lithuania, Nigeria, and Switzerland. This year we had a plaintive contributor who wrote that she’d definitely have joined us if it hadn’t been for 3,000 miles of ocean between her and us. In all seriousness, could or should we manage a ‘hybrid’ online/face to face launch in 2025? That seems a long way off, but as I say time passes quickly …
Photos from the launch coming shortly . . . watch this space.
Here is a full list of the readers and artists at our launch. Our thanks to all of them, as well as to those unable to join us.
Kim Crowder – Missives, Missiles, and Moves
Tabitha Gibb – Quite the Journey
Alison Green – The Droont Quine plus The Unmaking of Loneliness, by EM Strang
Karen Macfarlane – While I’m Being Born
Nicola Furrie Murphy – Blue Egg
Gillian Shearer – The Mynah Bird
Don J Taylor – The Sneck
Judith Taylor – Hill of Rubislaw
Niah Thomas (young poet) – The Double Headed Farm
Jean Gillespie – Net
Nicola Furrie Murphy – Black Swan
Neil Russell – Travels with Kate 1: Incident at the Abbey
Charley Sim – Ulysses; The Ploughman; and The Giant and Me
Ruth Simpson – Magic Carpet Sunday Morning
Eleanor Fordyce – Scream If You Want Tae Go Faster, by Laura Fyfe
Claire Martin – Loch Lade and Fur Coats, by Elaine Morrison
Judith Taylor – Rewilding by Nathan Castle and Leaving by Dorit Green (both young poets)
Roger White – The Young-Laplace Equation, by Craig Aitchison
More Words Up on shmu FM
posted on 26 March 2023
The arts programme Words Up on shmu FM ran a series of monthly broadcasts featuring Pushing Out the Boat in August 2022 – March 2023. The producers have kindly given us permission to publish copies of the broadcasts here for the benefit of those who were unable to listen live.
The first three progammes were published earlier on the blog. Here are the next four programmes. The final programme will follow shortly.
We’ve split the programmes up into short sections, with a brief description of each, and (for copyright reasons) we’ve excluded the music played in these broadcasts.The presenter and interviewer for all the programmes is Loraine Mudie.
4. An interview with Douglas Bruton (broadcast 17 November 2022)
5. An interview with Heather Reid (broadcast 15 December 2022)
6. An interview with Vivien Jones (broadcast 19 January 2023)
7. An interview with Martin Walsh (broadcast 2 February 2023)
8. An interview with Alison Green (broadcast 23 March 2023)
Programme 7: An interview with Martin Walsh
Broadcast 2 February 2023
Part 1 (6 mins): Introduction and welcome by Loraine / Martin tells us about himself and how he became involved with Pushing Out the Boat / Martin paints the colourful background to the poem he’s about to read – New York Dialogue [Issue 14, p28]
Part 2: (10.5 mins): Martin talks about his time in Sierra Leone, working for VSO then gives an introduction to the next story / Martin reads the first part of Momadu and the Sardine Fishers [Issue 9, p74]
Part 3: (12.5 mins): The story pauses / Prompted by Lorraine, Martin speaks about meeting the Fante people featured in the story and his experiences going fishing with them / Martin reads the second part of Momadu and the Sardine Fishers [Issue 9, p74]
Part 4: (2.5 mins): Lorraine and Martin chat about the story Martin has just read /Martin talks a bit more about the people of Sierra Leone and the legacy of the slave trade / Lorraine then reads Martin’s poem OoT a Bot’le [Issue 9, p25]
[Musical interlude: Good Morning Starshine from the musical Hair]
Part 5: (10 mins): Martin reads his story set in South America, Malupa and the Flying Bananas [Issue 11, p51]
[Musical interlude: Everybody Salsa by Modern Romance]
Part 6: (3.5mins): Martin talks to Lorraine about what he likes to read / Lorraine wraps up the interview, thanking Martin and giving details of how to contact her at shmu
Programme 6: An interview with Vivien Jones
Broadcast 19 January 2023
Part 1 (15 mins): Introduction and welcome by Loraine / Vivien talks about her writing career then reads her story Daniel Does Lunch [Issue 11, p7]
Part 2: (23 mins): Vivien chats with Loraine about Pushing Out the Boat / Vivien speaks about her interest in Renaissance music and the background to the story she is about to read /To set the scene for the story, David Hatcher plays Recercada Segunda by Diego Ortez, on the viol, a piece recorded specially for this broadcast / Vivien reads her story Muse and Rapture [Issue 14, p77]
Part 3: (6 mins): Vivien talks about the connection between Eric Clapton and Renaissance music / Lorraine chats with Vivien about what she likes to read / Vivien explains the background to her next poem Last Night Supper Mevaggisey [Issue 12, p77]
[Musical interlude: Cornwall My Home by Fishermens Friends]
Part 4: (5 mins): Vivien talks about her latest writing project based on artifacts from the Devil’s Porridge Museum / Loraine wraps up the interview with details of how to find out more about Pushing Out the Boat
Programme 5: An interview with Heather Reid
Broadcast 15 December 2022
Part 1 (4.5 mins): Introduction and welcome by Loraine / Heather talks about her writing then reads her poem Saxicola torquata [Issue 14, p61]
Part 2: (14 mins): Heather chats with Loraine about Pushing Out the Boat, the submission process, attending the launches and meeting the team / Heather reads her story Saving Olive Ridley [Issue 15, p14]
Part 3: (9 mins): Heather gives the background to the poem she is about to read/ Heather reads her poem The Butcher’s Wife [Issue 15, p73] /
[Musical interlude: What’s love got to do with it? by Howard Jones]
Heather chats about what she likes to read, her latest work and her plans for the future / Loraine promotes Pushing Out the Boat then winds up the interview with details of how to contact her at shmu
Programme 4: An interview with Douglas Bruton
Broadcast 17 November2022
Part 1 (18 mins): Loraine welcomes listeners and introduces Douglas Bruton / Douglas speaks about his engagement with Pushing Out the Boat then gives the background to the story he is about to read / Douglas read his story When Coal was Lost [Issue 12, p72] / Loraine relates a memory inspired by Douglas’s story
Part 2: (18 mins): Inspired by the next story, Loraine relates a tale about William Penny, a distant relative then she reads Douglas’s story Waiting for William [Issue 11, p76]
Part 3: (8 mins): Douglas speaks about his book Blue Postcards then reads an extract [available on Amazon] / Douglas chats about what he is reading at the moment and about his new book, being published in Feb 2023 / Loraine wraps up the interview
Oils well that ends well
posted on 30 January 2023
‘Oil’s Well That Ends Well’: Pushing Out the Boat collaborates with University of Aberdeen and NDC on creative writing workshop
Recently, Pushing Out the Boat was offered the exciting opportunity to collaborate with the University of Aberdeen and the North East’s National Decommissioning Centre in hosting a youth creative writing workshop. The workshop was titled ‘Oil’s Well That Ends Well: New Energy Stories for the North East’ and was held in November at the Decommissioning Centre in Ellon.
It was attended by pupils aged 12-14 from Ellon Academy and was led by Shane Strachan: a well-known North East writer, current Scots Scriever, and long-time friend of Pushing Out the Boat. It was also organized by University of Aberdeen Ph.D. student, Ines Kirschner, who is specializing in the environmental humanities. The workshop aimed to encourage young people to share their views about environmental issues and climate change and to explore these ideas in a piece of flash fiction. The pieces were then entered into a competition.
Pushing Out the Boat is lucky enough to publish the winning entry here. ‘Then vs Now – A Time Before’ is a lovely, thoughtful piece about the possibility of a more sustainable world and a brighter, greener future. The writer is Erin Moore, who is an S3 student at Ellon Academy. Congratulations, Erin!
Then vs Now: A Time Before
posted on 30 January 2023
Then vs Now: A Time Before
The year is 2047, the Eco-Friendly Act has been active for just over 15 years now. I wonder sometimes if life would be better with all that new tech they banned, but then I look at my history books and realise that humanity would’ve died out if we had continued the way we were.
My name’s Emma. I’m writing this as an essay for my history project at school. I’m 15 years old. Before the Eco-Friendly Act in 2032, people were animals. They were horrible to each other. Girls calling other girls names because she couldn’t afford the newest designer clothes, boys fighting other boys because they want a girl to like them. It was hellish.
The worst part about it all was that they knew they were killing the planet, and they did nothing. Nothing at all. All advancements in new tech were harmful and toxic to the environment and even the people who tried to change things were quickly shot down by government officials because they couldn’t profit from it.
The Act was only put into place after the 2029 Great Pacific Garbage Patch grew so large that it started to affect major businesses, halving the income for those who denied there was a problem.
The Eco-Friendly Act meant that we could no longer participate in the usage of fossil fuels, we could no longer cut back the forests for use in industry. We were forced to co-exist with nature.
This brings us to where we are now. Skyscrapers are overgrown with flowers and vibrant plants, as all new buildings must incorporate vertical gardens to combat the toxic greenhouse gases that have been pumped into our atmosphere for generations. We now use a mixture of solar, wind and wave power to supply electricity worldwide via the new Nikola Tesla Wi-Fi grid to provide greener energy for next to nothing. Our restored symbiotic relationship with the planet is only just beginning. However, we now hope for a future together.
By Erin Moore – S3 Pupil at Ellon Academy
Reflections from a prose panellist
posted on 20 December 2022
Thank you! Thank you to everyone who submitted. As a member of the Prose Panel, it has been a real treat to savour a broad and diverse array of pieces. As always, we can only choose a very small selection from those which intrigued us. Considerations of length, subject matter or voice can give the edge to one from a group of otherwise equally worthy stories. These are some reflections on what I read:
A complete story is always more satisfying to read. An extended piece of prose, regardless of how beautiful the writing, is ultimately dissatisfying if it fizzles out in the last two paragraphs.
We can accept an extract from a novel but think carefully about selecting an extract, ensuring it can stand on its own.
Resist the temptation to reach for obvious phrases. We all use them in conversation but writing is an opportunity to experiment. A well-placed descriptive verb always brightens a paragraph.
Eyes are the windows of the soul – aargh. That may be true but what about other facial features? Can they betray something remarkable and hypnotising? Perhaps a pattern of freckles or a little pool of sleep clinging to an eyelash? Distorting an image helps the reader see it in a fresh way – they get to do some work too.
Be wary of snide narrators. A writer I respect very much, and a good friend of the magazine, told me never to judge my characters. So, whether it’s mothers-in-law, noisy neighbours or cats feeling superior to dogs, use a disparaging tone with a very light touch. The same goes for smug.
Have a go at humour. Why not?
Edit and polish. Edit and polish. If possible, ask someone you trust to read over your piece. It is invaluable for picking up lost meanings or areas of confusion, as well as typos. Never rely on someone else’s song lyrics to do your writing for you. And, archaic phrasing and inversions in contemporary pieces will quickly turn your piece stale.
Finally, take your reader to the hidden room behind the false wall where there are secrets but also truths. Open the door and tickle their imagination.
Words Up on shmu FM
posted on 16 December 2022
The arts programme Words Up on shmu FM is running a series of monthly broadcasts featuring Pushing Out the Boat in August – December 2022. The producers have kindly given us permission to publish copies of the broadcasts here for the benefit of those who were unable to listen live. We’ve split them up into short sections, with a short description of each, and (for copyright reasons) we’ve excluded the music played in these broadcasts.The presenter and interviewer for all the programmes is Loraine Mudie.
1. An interview with Lily Greenall, POTB Editor (broadcast 18 August 2022)
2. An interview with John Boland (broadcast 15 September 2022)
3. An interview with Eleanor Fordyce (broadcast 20 October 2022)
4. An interview with Douglas Bruton (broadcast 17 November 2022)
5. An interview with Heather Reid (broadcast 15 December 2022)
6. An interview with Vivien Jones (broadcast 19 January 2023)
7. An interview with Martin Walsh (broadcast 2 February 2023)
8. An interview with Alison Green (broadcast 23 March 2023)
Programme 3: An interview with Eleanor Fordyce
Broadcast 20 October 2022
Part 1 (4 mins): Introduction by Loraine / Eleanor introduces herself then reads her poem Strata [Issue 16, p63]
Part 2: (8 mins): Loraine chats with Eleanor about being a Dons supporter which provides the background to the next story / Eleanor reads her story Sweet Sorrow [Issue 8, p48]
Part 3: (9 mins): Lorraine and Eleanor chat about the music that has just been played / then they chat about holidays past, setting the scene for the next reading / Eleanor reads her story The Lost Shoe [Issue 13, p88]
Part 4: 10.5 mins): Eleanor talks about Pushing Out the Boat / Lorraine mentions where to get the magazine / Eleanor talks about being Scottish and relates a tale about her granny, the inspiration for her next poem / Eleanor reads her poem Bidin [Issue 7, p15/ Lorraine winds up the interview
Programme 2: An interview with John Bolland
Broadcast 15 September 2022
Part 1 (5 mins): Introduction by Loraine / John introduces himself then reads his poem The Type [Issue 14 p13]
Part 2: (11 mins): John speaks about Pushing Out the Boat then explains the background to his trio of stories Three North East Vignettes / John reads the first of the three vignettes – Rubislaw Hole [Issue 14 p16]
Part 3: (6 mins): Lorraine asks John to explain the background to the second vignette / John reads Milonga [Issue 14 p17]
Part 4: (7 mins): John talks about the third vignette / Lorraine reads The Lady Who Lunched [Issue 14 p17]
Part 5: (10 mins): John reads The Retention Bonus [Issue 14 p12] / John talks about his latest work, inspired by the Piper Alpha disaster / Lorraine winds up the interview
Programme 1: An interview with POTB Editor, Lily Greenall
Broadcast 18 August 2022
Part 1 (17 mins): Introduction by Loraine / Lily gives the history and background to Pushing Out the Boat / Loraine reads the short story Be Careful What You Wish For by young author Naomi Greenwood [Issue 16 p5]
[Musical interlude: Wishing on a Star by Rose Royce]
Part 2: (6 mins): Lily reads Calum at Talmine, a poem by Donald Goodbrand Saunders [Issue 16 p89] / Lily explains the selection process and submission procedures for the magazine
Part 3: (9 mins): Loraine reads Big Sis, a story by Mhari Aitchison [Issue 16 p39]
Part 4: (10 mins): Loraine reads Switherin (Harbour of Refuge), a poem by Alistair Lawrie [Issue 16 p8] / Lily gives tips for submission / Loraine asks Lily what she likes to read / Issue 17 news / Roundup of where to find and how to contact Pushing Out the Boat and shmu
Crowdfunding - how did we do?
posted on 3 June 2022
We did it! We raised £1772 through our crowdfunding campaign, which will increase to just over £2,000 once Gift Aid is received from HMRC. Together with sales and event income, this should be sufficient to cover the publication costs of the next issue. Hurrah! So we’d like to say a huge thank-you to everyone who made a donation to our campaign.
Raising the funds to publish our lovely magazine is a recurring challenge. Income from sales and events are not sufficient to cover the full costs, requiring us to seek additional sources of income to keep us afloat. In the past, we have received grants from Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen City councils but this year, as the public sector reels from the effects of lockdown, it was clear their priorities were elsewhere. So, taking a deep breath, we decided to explore the opportunities offered by modern technology and launch a crowdfunding campaign.
After reviewing the alternative crowdfunding platforms, taking into account such things as appearance, fees, support for charities and ease of use, we opted for Crowdfunder. Then began the hard work of designing our Crowdfunder pages, explaining who we are, what we do, why we’re seeking funding, what we’ll do with the money we receive and deciding what rewards we could offer to donors in return for their contributions.
The next challenge was publicising the campaign which we did through mail shots to our supporters, postings on social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) and encouraging all the team and their friends to spread the word as widely as possible.
The fundraiser was open for a month (March 2022) during which we received 64 donations, the majority of which were made in the opening and closing weeks of the campaign. Around a third of donors opted for one of our rewards which included being named and thanked in print in Issue 17, receiving a copy of the current issue, being put on the list to receive a complimentary copy of Issue 17 once it is published, and being entered into a draw to receive a signed copy of the Walrus manuscript.
Walrus was a humorous and whimsical story written by former editor, Martin Walsh, about the exploits of a walrus, stranded on Aberdeen beach, then looked after in a tenement outhouse in Torry. It was published in instalments here in the POTB blog during the campaign. The manuscript, signed by Martin, was won by Lady Thornfield, an artist whose work features in Issues 14 and 15 of POTB.
If you missed it, our fundraiser project page is still available to view on the Crowdfunder website. Although that project is now closed, donations can be made at any time through our Crowdfunder Charity page where they will always be extremely welcome. Thank you for your support.
The Boat sails again - our first post-Covid live event
posted on 4 May 2022
A grey Sunday outside, but inside at Aberdeen’s Blue Lamp an afternoon lit up by words, music, laughter and friendship.
This was Pushing Out the Boat’s first post-Covid lockdown event face-to-face. More importantly, it was our first chance to say a big ‘Thank you’ to retired but long-standing crew members Freda Hasler and Martin Walsh, who did so much over the years to keep this particular boat afloat.
As if their work for the magazine weren’t enough, Martin also agreed to curate the afternoon’s readings, so very much a personal choice, and one that worked perfectly. Most of the prose and poetry was taken from past issues of the magazine and is listed below. In addition, special guest and friend of Pushing Out the Boat Wayne Price read an extract from a tense piece about adolescent fear he’d started during lockdown.
Thanks must go to the afternoon’s other readers, Eleanor Fordyce and Alison Green, and to singer Alastair Eddie, who entertained us pre-event and during the interval with a selection of standards from the great American songbook.
It would be invidious to highlight individual pieces by any particular author or reader in the face of so much good material. For those not present, there was an instructive lesson to the author of this article from sight of Martin’s running order and its single word characterisation of each piece as ‘sharp’, ‘earthy’, ‘poignant’, ‘playful’ and so on.
In keeping with Martin’s well-judged taste, two of his own pieces listed quite rightly as ‘humour’ opened and closed the programme – Long Haul Flight (not in any issue of the magazine), and New York Dialogue, his weel-kent conversation between a Central Park squirrel and a migrating Mexican humming bird, who he miraculously summonsed from the audience in the shape of Lou Parra Lazcano. They both appear in the photo at the head of this post.
It was a great culmination to the afternoon’s entertainment, and was followed by a presentation of gifts to Freda and Martin on behalf of all POTB crew members by current magazine editor Lily Greenall.
Oh, and finally the afternoon raised almost £200 from donations and sales, a useful adjunct to our recent online crowdfunder (of which more anon in a forthcoming blog post). Our thanks to Lewis at the Blue Lamp who generously provided the venue for us, and of course to all our contributors and audience.
Anyone interested in their feelings about the magazine and their input to it over the years can find separate Q&A posts on this blog with Martin and Freda, as well as a heartfelt tribute to them by Lily and POTB trustee Judy Taylor.
Work from Pushing Out the Boat read at the Blue Lamp, Sunday 24th April 2022. Copies of all the issues concerned are available from our online shop.
Eleanor Fordyce – Bidin
John Hargreaves –Deep in a Russian wood
Maureen Ross – A Woman writes to her Imaginary lovers
Auld Yin – Peeweets
Heather Reid – The S Word
Martin Walsh – Momadu and the Sardine Fishers
Martin Walsh – Oot o a botle
Rapunzel Wizard –Urban Shaman
Maureen Ross – The Love Calculations of the Gentleman Spider
Eleanor Fordyce – Wish You Were Here
Alison Green – The Six Wives o Harry Troup
Stephen Pacitti – The Possom Spider
Eleanor Fordyce – The Lost Shoe
Martin Walsh – New York Dialogue
A C Clarke –Poems I Don’t Want to Write
Sheila Templeton – The Iceberg that sunk the Titanic
posted on 22 February 2022
Martin Walsh has written this amusing and whimsical story to be published in instalments during our crowdfunding project to raise funds for the publication of the next issue of Pushing Out the Boat and to get our finances back into balance following the damaging effects of the Covid years. If you enjoy it, please consider making a donation.
Chapter One - Encounter
Published 25 Feb 2022
Chapter One – Encounter
It was a bitter February afternoon. The sea was wild, the wind slicing spume off the waves, whisking it like soap suds onto the sand. I was on one of my regular daily runs along the long, deserted stretch of beach, north of the river Don. The driving sleet was so fierce that I had to press my hand over my forehead as I ran, keeping my eyes to the ground a few feet ahead. That’s why I didn’t see him until the very last moment. He let out a warning growl, ‘Wrrrr‘.
‘Good gracious!’ I said, skidding to a halt and struggling somewhat for words. I gazed at his doleful expression and those two scary-looking tusks. ‘You’re a bit far from home aren’t you?’
He looked at me through baleful eyes. His voice, deep-throated, full of hesitance, redolent of the arctic wastes: To be frank, sir, I haven’t a clue where I am. Where are all the ice-flows? Where are my companions? What is this place?
‘This place, my friend, is Scotland,’ I didn’t think he’d be bothered with specifics.
Never heard of it, he said. And then, with the saddest eyes you have ever seen, I’m so tired, so very tired.
‘I’m not surprised,’ I said, suddenly overcome with compassion. I knew fatigue – I was a long distance runner. But what could I do for this poor creature so far from home? It didn’t take a genius to see that he needed rest, a chance to recalibrate his body compass, to eat some nourishing food, and regain his strength away from the prying eyes of my fellow humans. Before I could stop myself, before even considering the logistics, I blurted out, ‘Why don’t you come back with me?’
But I don’t know you, he said. Then, after scrutinizing my face for some moments, his expression seemed to soften. I do like your moustache though; you remind me of my brother – before he tusked.
I wanted to laugh at this; but I didn’t know whether walruses (especially tired ones) had a sense of humour and I didn’t want to offend him.
Do you have somewhere safe I might sleep?
Even as the wind-driven sleet bit into my cheeks, my mind was racing. I lived three stories up in a Torry tenement. Even if he could manage all those stairs with that great blubbery body of his, I could hardly get him there without my neighbours seeing him. Co-habiting with a walrus might raise eyebrows. But then I remembered the brick outhouses in the yard at the back. Each flat had its own one. They were Spartan but just about big enough to accommodate a walrus even at full stretch. ‘Yes, I do,’ I replied. But how to get him there? It was on the other side of town and without easy access to the shore. Luckily, I thought, I have a van. ‘Have you ever been in a motor? I asked.
What is motor?
‘Never mind, I’ll explain in good time. My place is a little distance from the sea, too far to walk, that’s why I need the motor for transport. Besides I have to prepare your accommodation.’ Walrus looked at me blankly. ‘Look,’ I pointed, ‘just along here, there’s a place where I can get my motor down to the beach – but I have to go and fetch it. I reckon I can make it back here in an hour.’
What is hour?
I rolled my eyes, trying to think. Why does everything have to be so difficult. I remembered a Japanese fisherman friend who could estimate the time by measuring the height of the sun above the horizon with his hands. But the sun and horizon were hidden. ‘Listen my friend, just wait here, I’ll be back as quickly as I can. Trust me.’ For some reason I touched my heart at this point. To my astonishment he repeated the gesture by placing a flipper across his shiny chest. ‘You can either hide up there among the dunes,’ I gestured towards them, ‘or better still, just paddle a little distance offshore and keep your tusks below the waterline. If any humans pass, they’ll just think you’re a seal. Understood?’
He looked at me but said nothing and I couldn’t read his expression. I’d have to do all this by sign language. Briefly I wished I’d been in the marines where they teach that kind of stuff. I pointed towards the waves making a swimming motion, then raised and lowered my forearms, palms down in a ‘wait-out-there’ gesture. Next, like a second-rate charades player, I tried to indicate running home then reversing direction and driving back to collect him. I could see he was trying to fathom things out as I set off back towards the city. I turned to wave just before exiting the beach and was relieved to see him making his way into the waves. But would he be here when I returned?
I raced home, the north wind at my back, with a renewed sense of purpose, something I had lost during these Covid days. I loved beach-running, imagining myself a latter day Herb Elliot, the Aussie athlete who had honed his strength and endurance on the steep sand dunes of Portsea, South Australia. Although way before my time I’d read about him in one of my dad’s books. I no longer felt the cold as I pounded on through the docks, across the river and home to the gull-echoing granite canyons of Torry.
Opening the tenement door, I tore through to its dismal rear yard and out again into the sleet. The light was already beginning to fade as I pushed open the unlocked door to my shed. Mine was the last one in the line – a line of brick-built outhouses so strangely out of kilter in this city of granite. But it was the best one for Walrus: in the unlikely event of anyone going to their sheds in this weather, no-one would pass his door.
I had a bike in the shed, a few tools and a broom; but what I really needed were the three stout 8 inch wide planks that I kept there. I hauled them out and tested their strength against the wall. They were mighty heavy and I could only manage one at a time as I hauled them along the corridor to the front door and across the pavement to my van. But shit, the car keys were in the flat – six flights up. Thankfully I was still running on adrenaline. I was up and down again, then back in my shed, dragging everything outside and brushing the flag-stone floor. All ship-shape. Guest accommodation ready!
I man-handled the planks into my van and jumped in. ‘Walrus – here we come!’ I hollered, smacking the steering wheel with excitement.
By the time I reached the beach again, darkness had almost fallen. The headlamps drilled long boreholes through the frenzied air above the sea, the waves dramatically white-maned against the darkling sky. Walrus was nowhere to be seen. Maybe he’s scared of the light, I thought, turning off the headlamps and the engine, then battling down to the water’s edge. The wind and the sea roared in my ears. I scanned the horizon. I couldn’t see anything. I began to pace up and down the beach, cupping my hands around my mouth, and hollering. ‘Walrus! Walrus! Where are you?’ My spirits ebbed as the sky darkened into night.
Then I heard him. ‘Wrrrr’, that same deep-throated growl he had used when we met. ‘Oh, thank god,’ I said, ‘I thought I had lost you.’ Leaning against the wind, I watched him haul his great body out of the waves. His eyes were rheumy. ‘You must be cold,’ I said.
Cold? He gave me a pitying look. No sir, this is hot.
‘Of course,’ I said, feeling rather stupid, ‘and no need to call me sir, please call me Mike.’ I gave him a little bow. ‘Do you have a name I might address you by?’
‘No other names?’
Walrus. He repeated, looking, I thought, a little exasperated.
‘OK Walrus, let’s get you home.’ I gestured towards the van. Through the spindrift darkness, we walked together – like the walrus and the carpenter – up the gentle slope of the beach. Once at the van I opened the back doors and pulled out the three planks, laying them side by side to make a broad ramp. ‘Do you think you can manage that?’ I said, gesturing towards it. He gave me a weary look and began to inch his mighty frame up the ramp and into the van’s interior. Stout as they were, the planks creaked and bent alarmingly under his weight. I could barely watch and wanted to help him but his look of affronted dignity held me back. As he flopped down exhausted onto the metal floor, the van sank deeply on its suspension and I noticed that his rear flippers were hanging over the back sill. I pointed at them, ‘You’ll have to pull those inside,’ I shouted above the wind, ‘so that I can close the doors.’ He looked at me blankly but understood once I eased the doors shut. ‘And it will be hell-of-a-noisy once we get moving,’ I said. But his eyes were already closed.
Oh my god, I thought, don’t die on me! But his mighty chest rose and fell in gentle reassuring waves. His flippers flexed easily as I lent my weight against the doors and felt them click. I drove home as gently as I could, trying to recite verses from ‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’ and then turning on a recording of ‘Homeward Bound’ by Simon and Garfunkle, hoping it might sooth Walrus as we drove over the hissing tarmac – though I doubt he heard a word or sound above the roar of the engine.
Driving over the cobbles of Victoria Bridge into Torry, the van was buffeted by a massive gust of wind which, without the ballast of Walrus, might have driven us onto the pavement and up against the parapets. The sleet had now turned to horizontal snow as I pulled up in front our tenement block. Although it wasn’t late, not a soul was about and the kirk across the street was almost obliterated from sight by the denseness of the blizzard. Perfect, I thought, the gods are with us. With keys in hand, I slipped quickly out of the van to open the back doors. Unbelievable, Walrus was still asleep and snoring loudly, his whiskered upper lip trembling with each out-breath. It would have been funny had I not been so anxious. I patted him urgently on one of his back flippers. ‘Walrus,’ I said, ‘come on old chap…’ But before I could finish, his eyes snapped open in terror and he let out the most almighty roar, his mouth open wide, his lower lip quivering.
‘It’s OK, Walrus, it’s OK,’ I held up my hands, palms towards him and lowered them very slowly. ‘Remember me, MIke – I’m your friend – you know, the one who looks like your brother. We met on the beach and now we’re home. Somewhere safe. Somewhere to rest.’ His look of fear gradually subsided, turning first to bewilderment then to utter weariness. It seemed cruel to ask him to move but I had no choice. I hauled out the three planks and he slid down them, his passage comically assisted by the skim of snow that had already settled on the ramp. I tried not to laugh. ‘OK, follow me, there’s a bit of a step here.’ I said pointing with one hand while working the front door keys to the tenement with the other.
I was surprised how easily he hauled himself along the floor – the sound of a heavy object being dragged across the lino, accompanied by the slap-slap of his front flippers. Once in the back yard, he stopped to look up at the swirling snow, to sniff the air and to wrinkle his broad snout in satisfaction as if reassured by the elements.
I opened the shed door. ‘Here we are my friend. No palace, I’m afraid but you’ll be OK here and I’ll bring you some breakfast in the morning.’ Walrus slid inside. ‘I’ll close the door, just to keep you safe.’ But he was already asleep again, slumped in a corner. I mopped the tenement corridor en route to my flat. No sense in raising unnecessary suspicions…
Chapter Two - What do you give a Walrus for Breakfast?
Published 8 March 2022
Chapter Two – What do you give a Walrus for Breakfast?
The next morning I awoke at dawn and went straight to my food cupboard, scanning its contents for a walrus breakfast. The only possibility was an old can of Portuguese sardines in tomato sauce. I tried to make up a Lewis Carroll-type verse: He wept like anything at the taste of tomato sauce… But it was too early in the morning for creativity and I went back to my usual worrying. What on earth do walrus’s eat, apart from feckless young oysters? Anyway, I was desperate to see how my new friend had survived the night, so I opened the tin, slopped its contents onto an enamel plate, grabbed a loaf of bread and scooted down the stairs. It was bitter outside in the back yard. Six inches of snow had fallen during the night but I knew that was the least of my worries.
I pushed open the door to the shed and there he was – a dark, shiny mound, like a huge sea-sculpted boulder, still sound asleep. I didn’t tap him this time, just whispered a quiet ‘Morning Walrus.’ I slid the plate of sardines towards him, leaving it a few inches from his muzzle. He was so deeply asleep that he didn’t even seem to hear the grating sound of enamel across the concrete. How on earth will he eat, I wondered, without those ridiculous tusks getting in the way? I didn’t have long to wait. With his eyes still closed, I watched his broad, whiskered snout begin to quiver and his nostrils to twitch. He opened an eye, its expression morphing rapidly from lugubrious to terrified and then, more slowly, back to baleful as he recognized again the face that reminded him of his brother.
‘You must be starving,’ I said.
‘Wrrrr,‘ he replied, but quietly this time, as if in assent. He lumbered slowly towards the sardines. Lifting his head delicately above the plate he let out another ‘Wrrrr‘. This time I could have sworn there was a hint of appreciation in its utterance. For those acquainted with cats, you will be aware how many shades of meaning they can express in a single ‘meow’, ranging from apparently deep affection: Oh, I so love you master, to a sharply barked command: feed me, you laggard, have you no sense of urgency?
Perhaps it’s the same with Walruses, I mused. The next thing I knew, Walrus had buried his head in the sardines, his tusks clicking noisily on the plate. So that’s how they do it, I reflected, with their muzzle pointing vertically towards the ground (or seabed) and their tusks pointing backwards toward their chests. It was all so obvious when you watched him. To say that Walrus wolfed the sardines would be an understatement. When he’d finished, I noticed a daub of tomato sauce on his nose and burst out laughing. Ignoring me, he hooked his tusks under the empty plate sending it spinning noisily across the floor as he searched desperately for more sardines.
The look in his eyes as he gazed at me was heart-rending. Shrugging apologetically, I offered him the loaf. He looked at it for a while, gave it a dismissive sniff then stabbed it with his tusks. He must have been desperate though, because he snaffled the whole thing down before turning his eyes on me once more.
‘Oh dear,’ I said, ‘look I’m really sorry, Walrus, that’s all I’ve got in the house. Consider it just a small appetizer. I’ll need to go out and buy you a proper breakfast, you’ll just have to be patient with me.’ This was so typical of me – never thinking things through! I’d figured out from his anatomy that he must be a benthic feeder and wouldn’t normally be able to catch fish; but he obviously loved their taste (or was it just the tomato sauce? My last cat, Mactavish, loved it too). Thankfully Torry was full of fish houses so, with luck, I could bulk-buy cheap fish to satisfy what I imagined would be his enormous appetite. Once again I resorted to charade-like gestures: I’m going to have to lock you in, be back soon, trust me mate.
Hooking a Covid mask around my ears and over my face at the entrance to the first fish house I came to, I pushed through the dangling strips of thick plastic sheeting, and into its cave-like interior. Wasting no time on niceties, I blurted out to the man behind the counter, ‘Can you sell me a box of cheap but wholesome fish, I’ve an army to feed.’
He scrutinized me curiously from beneath his white plastic fish-monger’s hat, his body clad in shiny yellow, his white-booted legs planted squarely on the fish-wet concrete.
‘There’s nae cheap fush these days, pal. Cheapest ah hiv is smaa haddies, nae gutted like. A box’ll set ye back fufty quid.’
‘Jeez,’ I said, ‘nothing cheaper?’
‘Sorry pal. Ye could aye try John Charles up ‘a street, he sometimes his mackareels, aat’s aboot as cheap as ye’ll get.’
So that’s what I did. I bought a big fish-market sized box of mackerel – they were cheaper – and hoisted them with some difficulty into the back of my van.
By the time I’d lugged the box, with its 40 kilograms of fish, through the tenement and across the snow to the outhouses at the back, I was knackered. I leant, breathing heavily, against the shed door. Walrus must have heard me because he let out his now customary greeting from behind the door. It was muted this time, thank god, but I thought it carried a note of desperation.
As I unlocked the door he gave me a look which unequivocally said ‘I could eat a horse.’ or whatever the walrus equivalent was. But what if he doesn’t like mackerel? I was back in worry mode again. I knew there was no way he could catch a mackerel even if they did live up there in the arctic. But I needn’t have worried. I tossed him a fish to test his response. It was instantaneous. His ‘Wrrrr’ was the most enthusiastic yet. It was a wrrrr without qualification, without even a ‘where’s the tomato sauce then?’
I was overcome with relief and joy; I could have hugged him. Forgetting where I was, I let out a whoop of triumph and danced a little jig in the snow. Idiot! I kicked myself, what on earth was I doing? Glancing upwards through the whirling snow, I scanned the window apertures in the grey cliff of the tenement. No sign of prying eyes, I noted with relief, but suddenly I was almost knocked over by Walrus shooting out of the shed to bury his head maniacally into the box of mackerel – in full view of anyone who might be watching.
‘Walrus, no!’ I scolded, waving an index finger at him as I tried to drag the box into the shed, but he hooked his tusks over the opposite side and he was much stronger than me. I had to wait until a pause in his eating frenzy. Only once he’d lifted his head out of the box was I able to jerk it away from him and back into the shed. He followed, galumphing, and I quickly slammed the door, leaving him to his feast. As I made my way back toward the tenement I thought I saw a curtain twitching on the second floor.
Chapter Three - Ina Seivwright
Published 8 March 2022
Chapter Three – Ina Seivwright
Back in my flat I warmed my backside against the radiator, luxuriating in its heat as I stared out of the window and watched the snow swirling by, smudging the outline of the docks beyond. I was supposed to be working – working from home – but I just couldn’t face my laptop, couldn’t stop thinking about Walrus. What the hell was I going to do with him? How long could I keep him cooped up? How long would it take him to recover his strength? What on earth would I do if he’d been spotted by the curtain twitcher?
There were two flats on each floor in the tenement and, if my guess was right, that curtain belonged to Mrs Seivwright – she who disapproved: disapproved of my efforts at polishing the communal stairs, tutted at the occasional girl friends I brought back to the flat, didn’t like the English. My fears were soon confirmed as there came a sharp rat-a-tat at the door.
Standing before me stood the mighty bulk of Ina Seivright, her slippered feet apart on the landing, meaty fists on hips, face red and breathing heavily. She came straight to the point.
‘An fit wis aat ah jist seen comin oot yer sheddie?’
‘No idea, Mrs Seivwright.’
‘Ye ken pets is nay permitted.’
‘And what d’you think you saw?’
‘Nay sure. Couldnae see recht thro the snaa. Bit it wis affa big.’
There was nothing else for it. I would have to tell her. ‘What would you say if I told you it was a walrus?’
Her jaw dropped, I could see her trying to process the information, comparing the size of what she had seen with this revelation. She scrutinized me with a look of utter disbelief. ‘I’d say ye wis aff yer heid.’ But I thought I caught a flicker of interest in her eye. Maybe I could even win her over.
‘Would you like to meet him?’
‘Ye’re kiddin?’ she replied. My God was that the hint of a smile? ‘Ah’ll hae tae get ma beets on first.’
‘I’ll see you down there. then.’
Waiting patiently outside the shed, I watched Ina emerge from the tenement and trudge slowly out through the snow. As she drew near I put a warning finger to my lips and opened the shed door a couple of inches. The stench was overpowering. Slumped In the corner lay Walrus, eyes closed, chest rising and falling gently, his flippers folded over his chest like a portly gentleman after a mighty pub lunch. Pinching my nose and waving my hand in front of my face, I opened the door a little wider. I beckoned Ina over to look inside, putting a finger to my lips once again so she wouldn’t awaken and frighten Walrus.
Ina’s face was transfixed, a look of utter enchantment replacing her normal sour expression. Walrus was a picture of contentment, having consumed half his box of mackerel. I closed the door and we left him in peace.
As we re-entered the tenement, Ina invited me into her flat for a fly cup. I told her the whole story, of how I’d stumbled across Walrus and brought him home, having promised him a quiet spot for the night to rest up. She gazed at me with a look of astonishment.
‘Promised him? Are ye tellin me, the craiter spiks?’
‘Well his eyes and body language speak to me and I seem to hear words.’
She gave me a slightly quizzical look, the kind you might give a daft person but I didn’t really care. The main thing was she clearly shared my enchantment with Walrus, and I was sure she wouldn’t make trouble now – maybe she might even be able to help.
‘I’m worried,’ I said, ‘I really haven’t much of a clue what I’m doing here. The only animal I ever cared for was a cat. I hate confining Walrus but I don’t want anyone seeing or pestering him – he needs to rest.
‘Fit aboot the Marine Laboratory?’
‘You mean that ugly building up the road near the golf course? What about it?’
‘M’be they’ll hae some cliver chappies in there that can help.’
I turned the idea over in my head. The place was supposed to be full of boffins wasn’t it? Maybe there would be someone there who could advise me. ‘Good thinking, Ina. I’ll try and find some contact details on my lap top and give them a ring. Thanks for the tea, I’ll keep you posted.’ And with that I was out the door and galloping up the stairs to my flat.
Chapter Four - Dr Hazlett
Published 15 March 2022
Chapter Four – Dr Hazlett
‘Marine Laboratory here, how can I help?
‘Walruses,’ I blurted out, ‘you wouldn’t happen to have an expert on them would you?’
There was a long pause. ‘Well that’s a new one…’ The reply was polite, hesitant, the receptionist sounded as if she were turning over options in her head. ‘Walrus is a mammal isn’t it? We do have someone who fields questions on whales and dolphins. I could put you through to him if you like?’
‘That would be great, thanks.’
‘We only have a skeleton staff here at the moment due to Covid restrictions but I could transfer you to his home number. His name is Dr Hazlett. Hold the line please.’
He came through almost immediately, his voice old, grumpy, and a trifle suspicious. I wondered what the receptionist had told him.
‘Look.’ I said, ‘I know this is going to sound a trifle bonkers, but I’ve got a very exhausted walrus at home with me in Torry and I’m at my wit’s end worrying about what to do with him. The receptionist, told me you might be able to help.’
‘Is this some kind of a wind-up? There are no walruses in Scotland.’
‘That’s what I thought,’ I replied, ‘until I almost fell over one on the beach north of the Don. I took him home in my van because he looked so poorly. He’s in my outhouse, I’ve been feeding him on mackerel.’ There was a splutter of disbelief down the line, ‘Please don’t put the phone down Dr Hazlett,’ I added quickly. ‘If you don’t believe me come and see for yourself. I live at 167 Victoria Rd not far from the Marine Lab. My name is Mike and I work at the Bank of Scotland in Union Street.’ I hated adding that last bit but thought it might add some gravitas and it seemed to work, or, at least, he didn’t put down the phone. He went on to pepper me with questions about Walrus and then about myself but I could tell from his tone that, although he remained suspicious, his attitude was beginning to change. There was now a note of barely restrained excitement in his voice. ‘I’ll be round in half an hour,’ he said, ‘I’ve got to come from the other side of town.’
I met him outside the tenement kicking the snow off his boots. He was a rugged looking guy, an outdoor type, much older than me, in his 50s I guessed, with the whiskers of a beard escaping around the fringes of his face mask. The visible parts of his face were weather-beaten and he had on a worn Barbour jacket and a chunky woollen hat. Clutched in one hand was a bulging sack.
‘You must be Mike, the banker,’ he said with a mischievous twinkle, ‘I thought these might come in useful.’ He shook the sack.
‘And you’ll be Dr Hazlett,’ I replied, trying not to wince at the banker reference. ‘Come on through. Very good of you to come at such short notice. So what’s in the sack?’
‘Mussels. Live mussels.’
‘Oh wow, that’s just brilliant.’ I could have hugged him.
‘I’m no expert on walruses but my guess is that these will be as close to his natural diet as you can find. Can’t believe he’s been eating mackerel,’ he said, shaking his head.
‘Me neither,’ I replied. ‘I guess he was desperate, but I should warn you, they make him fart something awful. Hope you’ve got a strong stomach.’
‘Ever tried dissecting a long-dead, stranded whale,’ he grinned. ‘But what intrigues me is how on earth you managed to get him here?’
‘Long story,’ I replied as we emerged into the back yard and crunched across the snow. I put a finger to my lips as we approached Walrus’s quarters. Carefully opening the door, I peaked inside. He was slumped in a corner with his back against the walls, his two flippers folded over his stomach, eyes closed, a look of sleepy contentment on his face. Creaking open the door a little wider – so that the Doc could take a look too – a shaft of wintry sunlight flicked across Walrus’s face bringing him sharply awake.
‘Wrrrr.’ he bellowed, lurching belligerently toward the Doc with terrifying menace. Perhaps he saw this older bearded newcomer as a rival alpha male.
Stepping quickly between them, arms extended, I shouted, ‘Whoa, Walrus, this is my friend, he’s come to help you.’ The look Walrus gave me suggested betrayal: But you promised me peace and quiet. This morphed to incomprehension: Help me? How he gonna help me?
I turned to the Doc who looked a bit shaken but also intrigued. ‘Why don’t you toss him a few mussels,’ I suggested, ‘gently, just in front of him.’
Walrus had risen to his full height, and continued to glare belligerently at the Doc. At first he ignored the mussels that the Doc threw his way, not daring to take his eyes off his rival. But then his nostrils began to twitch as he caught their whiff. Lowering his head he sniffed at the nearest mussel. ‘Wrrrr,’ his tone this time was less aggressive, excited anticipation struggling with lingering suspicion.’ He looked at me, as if for reassurance.
‘It’s OK,’ I said. ‘Dr Hazlett is my friend, he wants to be yours too and these mussels are a gift from him to you.’
Really? he was still looking sceptical until a faint memory seemed to dawn. Mussels. I know these from home. Almost as good as oysters. He worked his tusks methodically from side to side across the floor scooping the mussels into neat blue-black, barnacle-encrusted piles. Then he opened his big whiskered jaws and began to crunch them noisily down. I turned to look at the Doctor. He was grinning from ear to ear.
‘I can’t believe I’m seeing this,’ he said, ‘Odobenis rosmarus, here in little old Aberdeen. It’s like some strange dream… some parallel reality.’ He shook his head as if to shake himself back into the real world. Walrus was now looking at him impatiently. Doc laughed, ‘Even I can read that look,’ he said, tossing Walrus more of the mussels which bounced lightly, like skimmed stones, across the floor.
As the Doc continued throwing handfuls of shellfish at Walrus I scanned the shed. The box of mackerel was now three-quarters empty, a good sign I thought, but there were little piles of excrement everywhere and the smell was overpowering. ‘Hey, Doc,’ I said, ‘what do you think? How much longer should we keep him here? He’s already had about thirty kilos of mackerel and a good whack of your mussels. They must have done him some good, surely?’
‘I don’t think you should keep him here a minute longer. It’s a pity, I would have liked to have taken some measurements but he looks way too dangerous for that. I’ve no idea how we get him back to sea or how on earth you managed to get him here in the first place, but that’s where he should be.’
‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘you’re right and he’s definitely in much better shape now. Let’s lock him up again with half the rest of the mussels and make a plan. He seems OK so long as he’s got food and privacy. Anyway I’m bloody freezing, let’s go up to my flat and grab a coffee. You can leave the rest of the mussels out here against the door.’ This was a mistake.
Chapter Five - The Open Sea
Published 22 March 2022
Chapter Five – The Open Sea
Mugs of coffee in hand, I gestured Doc to sit on the single kitchen stool while I stood, bum to radiator, next to the window. He turned his piercingly blue eyes on me and, after insisting I called him Wil, said, ‘What I still don’t understand is how you got him here or how you…’ But at this precise moment, from somewhere outside came a furious ‘Wrrrr’ followed by the sound of violently exploding wood. Rapidly craning my neck to look into the yard below, I was just in time to see Walrus hauling himself off the door which now lay off its hinges beneath him, shattered in the snow. Doc leapt off his stool and joined me at the window as we watched Walrus hook his tusks under the edge of the door and flip it effortlessly over to reveal the half-full sack of mussels beneath it.
‘Oh, shit,’ I yelled, dashing towards the door, ‘we’ll never get him back into the shed or my van in this state.’
I was down the stairs and into the back yard within seconds, Doc not far behind. Walrus was busy ripping open the bag with his tusks. Even I didn’t dare approach too closely. ‘It’s OK mate,’ I said in the calmest voice I could muster, ‘nobody’s going to touch them, they’re all for you.’
Walrus gave me one of his impenetrable looks then went back to his feast. Doc tapped me on the shoulder, gesturing towards the tenement. At almost every window a face was watching the cabaret below. My head was pounding. Nothing really mattered now except to get Walrus back to sea. I was at my wit’s end. ‘What the hell do we do now, Wil?’
He looked at me through those sharp eyes of his. ‘Well, Mike, you managed to get him here, single-handed, and you sure as hell didn’t carry him here in your arms. Whatever magic you worked then, you need to find it again now.’
‘Thanks a lot.’ I replied sarcastically, turning to study Walrus again. He’d finished the mussels by now and was licking his lips triumphantly. He looked magnificent: proud, fierce and indomitable. I stared at him in mixed admiration and despair. He turned his eyes on me. ‘Wrrrr.‘ It was a command this time, no doubt about it. Home. The word echoed round my head like a joyous peeling of bells, home, home, home. I turned to look at Doc, ‘You hear that, Wil?’
‘Never mind,’ I replied, ‘I think he’ll come quietly now.’ I beckoned to Walrus, ‘Come on old chap, let’s get you home.’ Doc stood to the side, his face a picture of scientific incomprehension and awe as Walrus galumphed past him. At the back door of the tenement, hands on hips stood Ina, grinning broadly.
‘That wis an affa guid show ye pit on there mi loon. Ye should be on a telly. Onything, ah can dee tae help?’
‘Just keep the passage clear if you would, Ina, he gets spooked by crowds.’ I could already see some of my neighbours milling in the corridor. Ina was into traffic-cop mode instantly, waving her hands commandingly. ‘Awah back, oot the wae, heavy goods comin thro.’ My neighbours retreated reluctantly up the stairs and we were soon out on the snowy front pavement. As Walrus flopped onto the paving stones, an old lady on the other side of the street gasped in horror, eyes wide open, hand over her mouth.
‘Give us a hand would you, Wil? I’ve got a ramp in the back of the van. Walrus knows the drill.’ We hauled the three planks out together and watched Walrus clamber aboard – so different from his laboured efforts the day before. ‘You’ll give us a hand on the beach, won’t you Wil?’
‘Try and stop me.’ He grinned.
‘I’ll need to turn,’ I said, ‘visibility’s not too good in the van, could you keep an eye out for traffic?’
‘What do you mean turn, the nearest beach is just up the road, beyond the Lab, just beyond the Battery. You weren’t thinking of going back to the Don were you?’
I slapped my forehead, ‘Durrr, why didn’t I think of that? Yep, there’s a nice little beach just inside the last breakwater, isn’t there?’
Minutes later, I pulled into the side of the road just above the broad winding path down to the beach. The wind was still blowing out of the North, shivering the gorse bushes at the top of the brae. The landscape was locked under snow, gulls surfed the wind or hung in mid air above the estuary and one of the Shetland ferries, with its dramatic Viking logo, was nosing out into the swell.
Walrus was already up on his front flippers, facing out of the back of the van, sniffing the air as Doc and I opened the back doors. ‘Oh, shit,’ I said, ‘There’s a kissing gate across the path, how the hell are we going to get him though there?’ Doc scratched his beard, ‘Think he might just fit under the barrier if we’re lucky. Looks like there’s about two foot of clearance.’
‘Wrrrr,’ said Walrus, flippers already over the threshold, eyes peering impatiently down at the snowy verge below the back of the van, as if contemplating leaping.
‘Whoa, hold your horses, matey,’ I shouted. ‘Wait for the ramp.’ Doc was already hauling out the second plank, while I pulled out the third and slid it into place. Walrus was down the ramp like a rocket, almost knocking over the Doc in passing. He needed no instructions, pushing open the kissing gate then sliding like a fat limbo dancer under the metal horizontal to its side. Once on the path beyond, there was no stopping him. He slid over the broad, wooden steps with a kind of heavy, fluid grace. Flopping onto the beach he made straight for the water.
Half-submerged, he turned to look at us. He placed a single flipper over his chest. ‘Wrrrr’, he said, bowing his head slightly, before disappearing under the waves. We saw his mighty head reappear from time to time, watched by a family of surprised harbour seals. He turned one last time.
‘Go North, old friend.’ I shouted, but he needed no bidding from me. ‘Send us a post card when you get home.’ Doc was shaking his head in disbelief.
Back in my car, he fixed me in a long poker-faced stare before breaking into a mischievous grin. ‘You’re going to need a carpenter to fix that shed door of yours and you’ve a lot of explaining to do!’
We hoped you enjoyed this little story. Please help us to support the publication of other stories, poems and artwork by contributing to our crowdfunder.
Pushing Out the Boat at the WayWORD Festival 2021
posted on 10 October 2021
Pushing Out the Boat Event with Leopard Arts at the WayWORD Festival
The Aberdeen literary scene is back in full swing this autumn, with the return of the WayWORD Festival hosted by the University of Aberdeen. This year Pushing Out the Boat were again delighted to join Leopard Arts for a virtual literary reading at the WayWORD Festival. After participating in a similar event last year, we were happy to see another enthusiastic online turn out.
The event took place in the evening on Thursday the 23rd of September and opened with readings from Leopard Arts contributors. The event was introduced by Leopard Arts’ editor, Will Creed, and joint chaired by Pushing Out the Boat editor, Lily Greenall. Leopard Arts’ showcase featured a range of excellent work from within the Aberdeen student body and beyond.
Next up, the Pushing Out the Boat readings were kicked off by Gabrielle Barnby, who read from her beautiful, reflective prose piece, “From Poland”, which was featured in Issue 16. Our second reader was Mark Cassidy, who read three poems, including his piece “AGAINST THE GRAIN” which featured in Issue 16. He was followed by Nicola Furrie Murphy, whose poem “Passing Place” offered a poignant meditation on death. Nicola also read another piece about the joys of wild swimming.
Our final two readers were Max Scratchmann and EE Chandler. Max Scratchmann performed his poem “The Gaelic Teacher and the Dinner Lady”, while EE Chandler read several pieces of work, including her poem “Washing My Mother’s Hair” from Issue 16.
These readings were followed up by a lively Q&A which drew some fascinating insights on creative writing from both the Leopard Arts and Pushing Out the Boat readers. It was great to see so much enthusiasm and engagement with arts in the North-East and it was a pleasure, once again, to be part of this vibrant festival.
Launch of Issue 16
posted on 19 May 2021
PUSHING OUT THE BOAT ISSUE 16 LAUNCH
In the time of pandemic, the exception becomes the norm and the norm becomes the exception.
This thought must have crossed the minds of at least some of the near-one hundred souls who logged onto the online launch of Pushing Out the Boat magazine Issue 16 on the afternoon of Sunday the 16th of May.
Pushing Out the Boat’s recent norm, as old hands will know, has been to launch our new edition in the wonderful Phoenix Hall of Aberdeen’s Newton Dee community. Alas, Covid ruled that option out this year, so online it had to be or not at all.
Out had to go the pre-launch drinks and nibbles, the meeting of old friends and the making of new, the display of some of the art work from the magazine, and the buzz that can only come from face-to-face live performance. Out also, the chance to recoup some of the costs of producing the magazine through a ticketed event with added sales opportunity, a.k.a. our table laden with present and past issues of Pushing Out the Boat for sale (but don’t forget our online shop to order those extra copies for family and friends).
Lily Greenall – Sheila Templeton – Michael Stephenson – Alison Bell – Mairi Murphy
In came an online slide show of all the art work in the magazine (which can now be viewed on the Issue 16 page of our website, along with a selection of sample extracts of poetry and prose), in came poets and authors far from Aberdeen able to read at one of our launches for the first time, and in came guests from across the UK, Italy, Lithuania, Nigeria, and Switzerland (and those are just the places we know about). In also came a live chat function, so we could not only highlight biographies and contact details for our fifteen readers as they introduced themselves, but also capture the immediate responses of those attending. Here’s a selection of what people said.
- Stunning artwork
- So enjoying all the voices today
- A real Sunday afternoon treat
- What a whole load of talent!
And, plucked at random, responses to some of the individual contributions.
- ‘Beyond the wind, by the asphodel-starred lochans, a redshank is crying …’ a gently hopeful ending (Alison Bell’s prose piece ‘Finding Ithaka’)
- ‘He nails your soul to the floor …’ Thank you. Lovely poem (Mairi Murphy’s poem ‘Roan Inish, Gweebarra’)
- ‘A certain heartbreak smell’. Wonderful to see the inspiring object (Gabrielle Barnby showed the audience the crucifix that was the subject of her prose piece ‘From Poland’)
- I could hear the sea in your voice. So good to hear the Doric (Alistair Lawrie’s poem ‘Switherin’)
- Just fabulous (Ellen Renton’s poem ‘In my best dreams’)
- Wonderfully precise and captivating. Thank you (Susan Elsley’s short story ‘Golden Air’)
- Names and identity are so important – thank you for writing this. Wonderful poem (Adebusola Bada’s ‘Identity’ – Adebusola is one of our young contributors, aged 17).
Gabrielle Barnby – Alistair Lawrie – Zoë Green – Ellen Renton – Eleanor Fordyce – Morag Smith
You can find recordings of all our featured authors reading their work here.
Not so long ago, any online arts event was very much the exception, associated with a sense of having been short-changed of the ‘real’ thing. Now the world of performance has been turned upside down. As one of our readers, Alison Bell, said in introducing her contribution, ‘Everything I wrote last year came out of the pandemic one way or another’ and we sensed a similar impact on many of our readers. Our online launch may have been part of the new norm but in the hands and with the voices of our contributors it also became exceptional, and we thank them, and our audience, for that. Thanks also, of course, to our editor, Lily Greenall, who introduced our readers and for the warm words about Pushing Out the Boat spoken by the author of Issue 16’s Foreword, Scots and English poet Sheila Templeton.
Footnote. Like most people, we also yearn for a return to the best of the old norm and hope to put on a live event of readings in Aberdeen as soon as we can, featuring local contributors to Issue 16. News of that will be publicised in the usual way – on the website, on social media and to our newsletter subscribers (you can join our mailing list here).
Susan Elsley – Ingrid Leonard – Adebusola Bada – Stella Hervey Birrell – Tom Bennett – Ian Crockatt
Q & A with Freda Hasler
posted on 29 January 2021
‘It was a huge learning curve …’
What’s it like being in almost at the birth of a magazine of new writing and the visual arts and seeing it through many years of increasing success? Our recently-retired coordinator Freda Hasler answers our questions designed precisely to explore that subject. You can find a tribute to Freda and her partner Martin in an earlier blog post.
Until your retirement recently, you had been involved with POTB for many years. What made you get involved in the first place?
There’s a very long answer! But the short one is to help my partner Martin, who became seriously ill shortly after becoming POTB’s first voluntary editor (the wonderful NHS cured him!). Even before that, when the magazine was still being run by Aberdeenshire Council, I helped with copy-editing Issue 4.
POTB is a magazine run entirely by volunteers, challenging to achieve at the best of times. What do you think has been the secret of its longevity?
Its unique quality – and wonderful teamwork of course. Utilising the web helped, not just keeping costs down, but aiding communications and raising profile: who would believe the increased number and wide variety of submissions achieved by 2020. But let’s not forget the array of invaluable skills so generously volunteered over the years – and we didn’t break too many arms press-ganging their owners on board!
Latterly, you were the coordinator for the magazine but you must have done many other things over the years to ‘keep the show on the road’, mostly in behind-the-scenes roles. What have been the highlights of your involvement?
Well, I learned a lot about publishing, though it was a huge learning curve. As part of the core team, one steps into roles as and when required. I had a period as Acting Secretary, with the unexpected bonus of forming long-term friendships with several (often first-time published) writers and artists – plus meeting many appreciative contributors at our brilliant launches. I enjoyed the networking (except when folk started to run away from ‘that POTB woman’ whenever I approached!). But my favourite task was working on the magazine layout and design: I’m proud of the look of POTB… I gather there may even be some imitations out there.
And the most challenging aspects?
We often seemed to lurch from crisis to crisis, with team members disappearing (some to far-away shores at short notice); we even had a funding heist! Supporting volunteers is never easy. I guess I won’t miss the increasingly 24/7 nature of the job, and the full calendar: fitting in holidays could be difficult, and necessitated lots of advance POTB prep. The latter did pay off when we got stranded in Japan (due to a volcanic eruption in Iceland!) and would have missed deadlines for the upcoming Launch of POTB 9. Luckily those pre-prepared documents were accessible online, and we were able to send everything – from our hotel bedroom. Phew!
Of all the work that has appeared in the magazine over the years, poetry, prose and art, do any pieces stand out as something you especially remember or feel affection for, and why?
Of course, everything by my partner Martin Walsh is a highlight – even his Doric poem [Martin is from Kent – Ed.]. He has such a following, and it’s a disappointment when his work doesn’t make the cut. (But that does prove the anonymity of the selection process). Having copy-edited many pieces over some fifteen years, several I know almost by heart, and they are very special. Amongst countless superb contributions, I’d have to include anything by Stephen Pacitti, with ‘The Possum Spider’ in my top ten. [You can find this story in Issue 12 of POTB online, starting at p.12– Ed.]
What practical tips would you give to the team now running the magazine?
We tried hard to share out the workload, and put good procedures in place; so the only advice I’d give is to avoid becoming dependant on too few individuals. Otherwise, the team are so talented that I’m pretty sure they don’t need any more tips!
What do you feel, from your experience, will be the most challenging issues for a magazine like POTB in the future?
These never really change. Most small publishers encounter similar challenges year on year (even without COVID), but POTB has the additional problem of finding those vital skilled volunteers; luckily we were assisted by incredible outside support. Also, selling a print magazine is an everlasting problem, so perhaps building a subscription base, even for the online editions, might help.
And finally, what now? You’re not a person to rest on their laurels, even after so many years of helping to make a success of POTB. What further challenges await you?
My ‘retirement’ coincided with the start of COVID, so our planned travels have been curtailed – hopefully to be resumed very soon. Mainly for the pleasure of learning new skills, I attend art courses, some latterly in fascinating places overseas – though right now Zoom doesn’t quite hit the mark. But other demands continue, including those of my Board duties with an Arts organisation, plus lay involvement with various university research projects. These keep the brain cells active. And there’s our beloved garden …
Pushing Out the Boat at the WayWORD Festival
posted on 3 October 2020
Poetry and Prose Via Zoom at the WayWORD Festival
Despite the continuing COVID restrictions, Pushing Out the Boat was lucky enough to be involved in a literary showcase via Zoom last Sunday night on the 27th of September. Combined with readers from Leopard Arts, a literary collective run by Creative Writing students at the University of Aberdeen, five regular POTB contributors took to the (virtual) stage to showcase some of their work. The event was the final reading on the WayWORD programme and was chaired jointly by myself and by Leopard Arts editor, Will Creed.
The Leopard Arts crew went first and provided a range of spectacular pieces, from spoken word poetry on the theme of modern life under pandemic conditions, to musings on American politics. After this hard act to follow, our segment of the evening was opened by Judy Taylor. Judy began her reading with Gerard Rocheford’s poem “Scarecrow”: a touching tribute to the North East poet, who died at the end of last year (Judy wrote a separate appreciation of Gerard on our blog earlier this year). Judy, who is a long-standing POTB team member, regular contributor, and a panellist on this year’s prose selection panel for Issue 16 of the magazine, then read one of her own poems about austerity and the pinched economic landscape of recent years.
Next up, Aberdeen based writer and author of the 2019 poetry collection, Fallen Stock, John Bolland read an evocative vignette set in and around the Aberdeen oil scene. Capturing the grim and gritty feel of the North East, Bolland’s reading made fine use of the distinctive Aberdeen dialect and granite scenery. John’s reading led on to a reading by acclaimed Aberdeenshire author, Sheila Templeton, who has just been announced the winner of this year’s McCash Prize for Poetry in Scots. Sheila read poems from her upcoming collection, Clyack, which is due to published later this month. The first of these was a moving dedication to her late sister, while another was written in Scots and charted the experience of her “Granda” who, on his journey across the Atlantic in 1912, believed he saw the very same iceberg that sunk the Titanic. “The Iceberg that Sunk the Titanic” is published in Issue 15, the current issue of Pushing Out the Boat.
After this, Gavin Gilmour read an excerpt from his current work in progress: a novel set in the North East that features an angry and apathetic young man as its protagonist. With pithy dialogue and touches of dark humour, Gavin’s piece built a strong sense of place and character and undoubtedly made listeners eager to hear more. Forfar writer Eleanor Fordyce concluded the evening’s readings, finishing with a pair of poems written in Doric and, once more, capturing the strong voice of the North East that defined the evening’s performances.
The reading was attended by around 50 audience members, who could watch the readers from home on their own Zoom connections. The event concluded with a lively Q & A session in the Zoom chat and was a lovely way to end a festival that had featured so many inspiring local events. Although many of the readers commented that it was certainly a new and strange experience reading to a webcam rather than a live audience, the event went off without technical glitches and suggests a welcome possibility for future POTB events in the time of corona. Although not yet online, all WayWORD Festival events were recorded and will be available for online viewing soon!
From left to right: Lily, Judy, John, Sheila, Gavin, Eleanor
Pushing Out the Boat in the time of corona
posted on 19 August 2020
17th March 2020, and the Pushing Out the Boat crew sail into new territory – a virtual team meeting.
Only the most hermit-like reader wouldn’t be able to guess why: the corona lockdown of course.
We embarked on this latest stage of our voyage with some apprehension.
The immediate question was could the team manage the vagaries of Zoom between us so we could continue to ‘meet’? Well, three meetings, a few unintended sightings of passing pets, one member’s exotic (electronic) background of sea and sun and a dropped laptop or two later, the answer’s a definite yes. Of course, we miss the social aspect of a face-to-face encounter but on the plus side our meetings are at least half an hour shorter.
The bigger question was did we have the resource to produce a next issue under potentially extended lockdown conditions? Even here, technology came to our aid. At the time, we lacked a magazine designer. Luckily, the online recruitment resources of Aberdeen Council of Voluntary Organisations/Volunteer Scotland and Creative Scotland identified a number of promising volunteers and after a Zoom getting-to-know-you session, we were pleased to welcome Claire Martin as our new magazine designer. We decided it was all systems go for our 16th issue
The prescience of other team members (not this one) means that authors, poets and artists submitting work to Pushing Out the Boat no longer have to wrestle with paper or canvas, packaging, getting to a Post Office during lockdown, and the tender mercies of the Royal Mail to deliver their precious cargo to us. Submissions have been completely online for a while now: registering an interest and uploading text and graphic files couldn’t be easier. If you’re tempted to try your hand at submitting work, just go to our Submissions page before 30th September and take it from there.
Less positively, corona has had an impact on the steady stream of sales we usually enjoy between issue launches. Most of our wonderful vendors have been closed or operating under severe restrictions for some months now. If you need a magazine fix but can’t visit them, you can still order a copy of Issue 15 online, as well as earlier issues available at a discounted price.
Finally, those of you in the North-East of Scotland may have attended one of our reading events in the past. Frustratingly, these have had to be put on hold at a time when physical gatherings have not been possible. But technology and Aberdeen University have come to our aid: we are sharing an online platform with Leopard Arts for an hour’s online performance at the WayWORD Festival at 7 p.m. on Sunday 27th September. You can register here to view the session. It may be a precursor of other online events to come …
Footnote. Before this article went to press, a further local lockdown was introduced in our hometown of Aberdeen as there was a spike in corona cases associated with the hospitality industry (pubs, clubs and restaurants). All at Pushing Out the Boat hope you’re safe from the virus wherever you are in the world.
Martin Walsh and Freda Hasler – a tribute
posted on 30 May 2020
March saw a major change to the crew and complement of the Boat with the retirement of Martin Walsh and Freda Hasler, who have been core members of the Pushing Out The Boat team since Issue 5. Between them, they have filled just about every one of the vital roles that keep the Boat sailing on.
They first came aboard (sorry, but Awful Nautical Puns are one of the traditions they established, and that we have a responsibility to continue) for Issue 5 of the magazine. POTB was founded and first edited by Magi Gibson, who at that time (2000) was Writer in Residence with Aberdeenshire Council. She was later succeeded in both roles by Mindy Grewar. However, in 2005 the Council found it necessary to end direct support for the magazine and Mindy, anxious to see it continue, put out a call for volunteers to take over its running.
Martin and Freda were among the first to step forward, and the work they have put in during the 15 years and 10 issues since has been pivotal to the magazine’s continued success. Martin was very much the public face of the magazine for much of this period, serving two spells as Managing Editor, as well as helming launches and fundraisers, and filling vital roles in Sales and Outreach. Freda meanwhile took a leading role on the production side as Coordinator, steering the internal and external communications, the teams handling layout, copyediting and proofing, and the multifarious organisational and administrative questions that arise in putting together a magazine.
The finished magazine is of course… well, it would be a pun too far to say “the tip of the iceberg”, but perhaps we can say it’s the grand entertainment on deck, band playing, whistles tooting, and flags fluttering, that can’t go ahead without huge efforts of organisation, expertise, and engine-power below decks. Submissions have to be attracted, then received, anonymised and distributed to panels evaluating prose, poetry and art submissions. The panels sift the daunting catch of hopeful works and make their selections, and then the work of layout and copyediting begins. Meanwhile, discussions will have been under way with a printer, deadlines set or revised, acceptances and rejections sent out, and editorial queries made, and the answers relayed. And, after the whole lot is finally ready and sent off to the printer, the arrangements for the launch need to be finalised. Post-launch there are only the small matters of publicity and sales, fundraising applications and events, annual reports…. before planning starts for the next issue.
There must have been times when both Martin and Freda pondered actually running away to sea for an easier life: but they have stuck with the Boat through 11 issues, literally thousands of submissions, uncertain financial times, a shift of gear to full charitable status, and an expanding profile both locally and internationally. Their contribution to its current standing is immeasurable. To be entering its 21st year is an enviable record for any literary/arts magazine; to have published the work of writers and artists both new and experienced, to have maintained a strong local presence while showcasing work from five out of the six continents (well, we don’t think we’ve had anyone from Antarctica yet, but we could be wrong) and to have held to such high standards of quality throughout, is an achievement everyone involved can be proud of, and Martin and Freda most of all of us.
We will miss them both as we pipe them ashore (though we won’t be surprised if we see some contributions from them, now they have more time for their own creativity), but we wish them happiness in their hard-earned retirement, and above all, calm sea and prosperous voyage.
Introducing Lily Greenall, the new POTB Editor
posted on 5 March 2020
The following is a Q&A with incoming Editor Lily Greenall by retiring Editor Martin Walsh.
Note from the POTB team: we are delighted that Lily has joined us, and we wish her every success in her new role.
I know I speak for everyone in the team when I say how pleased and honoured we are to welcome you aboard. Could you tell us when and how you first heard of POTB and what were your initial impressions?
I first heard about POTB from my PhD supervisor, Wayne Price. He recommended it as a good place to submit some of my work and, following his advice, I sent in my short story ‘Frank,’ which was accepted. I came to a POTB event at the Aberdeen University May Festival and was really impressed by the quality of the work read out and the friendly atmosphere among the team; this encouraged me to apply when I heard that the Editor’s position was available.
I believe that, like me, there is a little bit of Kent in you? If so what brought you to Aberdeen?
Yes, my mum’s side of the family are from Kent – I’m going on holiday there in March to visit them. I grew up on the Isle of Lewis though. We used to visit friends in Stonehaven a lot and come to Aberdeen to do our Christmas shopping, so I have nice childhood memories of the place. I came to live in Aberdeen ten years ago to start my Undergraduate Degree. After this I stayed on to do an MLitt at the uni and this led into doing my PhD here. I’ve always liked living in Aberdeen – I’ve lived in flats all over the city now! I think it’s a nice size of town for someone from a small place and I like being near the sea.
You are amazingly well qualified for this job, with your experience of editing Causeway, your PhD in Creative Writing and your own story-writing skills. Does it concern you that in generously taking on this (voluntary) job you will be reducing the number of hours you can devote to writing and/or earning a wage?
Thank you! I think it’s going to be a challenge at times, but I’m not overly concerned. I got used to doing Causeway – where the responsibilities for every stage of production were often shared between just two of us – alongside my PhD and the other responsibilities I had while I was studying, so I’m used to juggling my time. I’m also currently working as a freelance writer and, although I have lots of deadlines to meet, my schedule is very flexible because I can set my own hours. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep doing this and POTB will fit in well. In terms of my own writing, I think its always inspiring to read good fiction submissions and it keeps you motivated to write. Overall, I see POTB as a great opportunity to broaden my skillset in a way that I think will be very helpful to my future career, no matter what I end up doing.
What/who was the subject of your PhD?
I did my PhD on the figure of the Devil in Scottish fiction and folklore. Originally I planned to do it on folk tales from the Isle of Lewis but, as I discovered, there aren’t a huge amount of written tales about the Devil from there (although there is a very lively oral tradition), so I broadened my topic out and it ended up being a lot to do with Borders folktales and with Walter Scott and James Hogg.
Alongside this I wrote a collection of short stories that featured different takes on ideas about the Devil and the supernatural in Scotland. I was quite open-minded writing the stories so not all of them ended up featuring a Devil character, or even really fitting this theme. I think it was a cohesive enough collection overall, though, and it was great experience writing it.
When did you first develop a love of literature, which writers have most influenced you and do you have a favourite genre?
I always wrote stories and loved reading, but I didn’t really take it seriously until I was finishing school and deciding whether I wanted to go to university or not. What really made up my mind was, when I was about sixteen, I got really into a series of books called The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice, which are these very Gothic historical novels set in the 1700s in New Orleans. I loved reading them so much that it set me off reading all sorts of other things and I started seriously working on my own fiction. I decided to study English at university and, once I started, I just wanted to keep doing it. Even one of the freelance jobs I’ve got just now is writing literature study guides.
I feel like I’m influenced by whoever I’m reading at the time, but I definitely have writers who always make me want to write and whose style really resonates with me. I really like Angela Carter and Shirley Jackson. At the moment I’m reading a lot of Doris Lessing. I love the way she writes, it’s very precise and observational – she makes you feel that there’s loads going on under the surface even when, seemingly, not much is happening.
My favourite genre is definitely Gothic fiction, even when it’s a bit silly and melodramatic. I just think it’s so fun. I love classic Gothic novels, like The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Wuthering Heights, but I like a bit of modern horror as well. Stephen King is good – his novels are very vivid. James Hogg’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner is probably my favourite Gothic novel.
You had a story, ‘Frank’, in the last edition of POTB. The writing was spare and so beautifully observed. How on earth do you manage to get inside peoples’ heads, both sexes, so convincingly?
Thank you very much! I actually really like writing from the perspective of a man, although I haven’t been doing it so much recently. I used to write almost exclusively from the point of view of men. Partly, I think its fun just to imagine an experience which isn’t your own. I think men and women sometimes have a very different social experience and it can be fun to play at being someone who can do certain things that you wouldn’t do, or to imagine being someone that people would react very differently to or expect different things from.
I think a lot of it comes from the writers I’m reading as well. I think, just by accident, I used to read more male writers (or women writers who wrote from the perspective of men) and, recently, I’ve been reading more female writers so maybe that makes a difference in how I write.
How would you like to see POTB develop?
For the moment I’d like to focus on keeping the quality of the submissions accepted at the same high level and, given my own connection with the university, perhaps build some more links there. I think it would be great to see more submissions from young writers or student writers as they’re often looking for places to send their work and get their first publication. It would be great to emphasize that POTB is a friendly place where young writers can send their work.
And finally, tell us something surprising about yourself, literary or otherwise?
I quite often listen to terrible electronic club music when I write. Something about the rhythm of it gets me energized to keep writing. The only problem I find is that, because I’m listening to this, I always end up writing scenes set in nightclubs. It wasn’t so bad when I used to go to nightclubs a lot, because I’d write about things I saw there or things that happened on nights out, but now I hardly ever go to nightclubs so it doesn’t really work as well.
Many thanks Lily: so good to learn a little more about you. I’m sure our readers will feel the same.
An Appreciation of Gerard Rochford
posted on 6 February 2020
Distinguished local poet Gerard Rochford died late 2019. He will be much missed. Indeed, as a key member of the original team of volunteers who kept POTB alive when Aberdeenshire council discontinued publication in 2005, we are proud to acknowledge his contribution with this Appreciation by poet Judith Taylor.
Gerard reading his work at a POTB Retrospective in the Blue Lamp in 2016.
It would be difficult – maybe impossible – to write a full appreciation of Gerard Rochford: life led him into so many spheres. He was an academic psychologist and a therapist; a beloved husband, partner and family man; a lover of music and the countryside; a man of deep thought and of wicked, deadpan humour. And he was not only a poet but someone who opened doors into poetry for many others, myself among them. This is the Gerard I want to speak of here.
I first met Gerard, as I first met so many poets, in Books and Beans on Belmont Street. In 2003 he, Doug Gray, and Eddie Gibbons began to look for a place to perform their work to the public. Books and Beans had newly opened and owner Craig Willox invited them to start a monthly poetry night there. And so Dead Good Poets (as it was then called) started, on the last Thursday of the month, with an invited guest or guests headlining and an Open Mic space for all who wished to get up and read.
Initially all three founders shared MC duties: but with Doug and Eddie working outside town the traffic was often a problem for them, and Gerard gradually assumed the mantle by himself. He was a courteous encourager of all comers – I was one of very many poets to take their first public steps in Aberdeen when I took a deep breath and put my name down for Open Mic – and the atmosphere of listening and support he fostered still endures, while his moving but unshowy readings of his own work set a standard to which we all aspired.
Encouraging poets into print was also part of the Dead Good Poets’ ambition. In 2004 they brought out a joint collection, Three Way Street, with Doug Gray’s Koo Press (which he had founded in 2002), and also became more involved in the running of the press, with Gerard editing or co-editing many of the collections, and Eddie contributing artwork and design. Koo Press gradually broadened out its operations, showcasing the work of new poets from the local scene and beyond: in its 10 year existence, it published some 38 chapbooks, many of them first collections, as well as anthologies and even collections of poetry and recipes. All of them were meticulously edited (Gerard’s motto “Delete, delete, delete!” still whispers in my ear when I come to revise my work) and beautifully produced. It’s a record to stand beside that of any small press in the country, and a roster I’m proud to have been part of.
While this was going on, Pushing Out the Boat sent up a flare. An important showcase for North-East writing and art, it had been published by Aberdeenshire Council since its foundation by then Writer-in-Residence Magi Gibson; but the Council was ceasing to support publication, and Magi’s successor, Mindy Grewar, wanted to ensure it continued. Gerard knew its value (he had a poem in the very first issue, as did Eddie and Doug) and was one of those who stepped forward, chairing the poetry selection panel for Issues 5 to 7 under the editorship of Martin Walsh, and contributing his painstaking skills to the copyediting process. As part of that early team he helped to set the high standards that the magazine has sought to maintain ever since.
Gerard’s own poetry very much reflects the man himself: meticulous and spare in its choice of words, but rich with feeling; curious, probing, and open-hearted; light in touch even with tough subjects; and always leaving the reader wanting more. He was a poet above all of the human heart – of love, of loss; of those he knew and those he wished to know better. His work of bringing poets forward into the world continues. And although we have lost Gerard the man, his voice remains with us in his poems, and his work will endure.
Links to poems:
A Poem About Li Po (Li Bai)
My Father’s Hand
Poems by Gerard Rochford can also be found in issues 1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 9 and 10 of Pushing Out the Boat. Those in issues 9 and 10 can be read in the online versions of the magazine.
Coordinator/Project Manager opportunity
posted on 13 November 2019
Following on from our post of 19th September, we’re delighted to report that Lily Greenall has joined the POTB team as Incoming Editor. Lily is an accomplished writer with experience of editing a literary magazine and will be a great new addition to the team.
But we are still looking for a new Coordinator/Project Manager. Might you be interested?
We are a team of volunteers based in and around Aberdeen responsible for Pushing Out the Boat, North-East Scotland’s magazine of new writing and the visual arts.
This role involves project management of both team and the tasks needed to produce our regular magazine.
You would be joining us along with our new editor in time to help manage an entire production cycle from the commitment to go ahead through to publication and launch of a new edition.
Our coordinator/project manager assigns and coordinates tasks with team members, compiling a schedule of tasks critical to the agreed timetable, and ensuring those tasks are completed timeously.
While an interest in the arts would be a bonus, experience in coordination and project management are more important to fulfil this role successfully. We are a friendly group and the work of the editor and coordinator/project manager is supported by a wider team at and between regular committee meetings.
You can read more about us on our website, especially the About us page. If you’re interested and would like to learn more, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. After a first chat, the next step would be for you to meet our current coordinator, who can brief you about what the role involves in more detail. She will also be available to help hand over the work to you in a phased way.
FROM THE ARABIAN NIGHT PATROL TO POTB
posted on 14 October 2019
The opening chapter of my political thriller, Arabian Night Patrol, was published in Pushing Out the Boat 14 in April 2017. I’d been researching and writing the novel for several years, but it was still only partially complete, still a rather tender sapling. I’d previously had textbooks and business books published by Longman and Kogan Page, but fiction is even more competitive and with less assurance of publication, can be a dispiriting enterprise. Publication in POTB therefore was encouraging and I’m grateful for the confidence it gave me to carry on and complete the novel.
The POTB extract, The Candlelight Patrol, introduced my setting, a desert oil camp in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War and the genesis of what became known as the War on Terror. It also introduced the main protagonist, Rob, a middle-aged engineer, who’s volunteered for the night patrol guarding the camp perimeter. As fighter jets screech overhead, air raid sirens blare over the call of the muezzin, and duels between Scud and Patriot missiles illuminate the night sky, he wonders what to do next with his life. His wife wants him to come home, but he’s tempted by a more exciting future when he falls for June, a free-spirited American artist. Yet her husband, Rick, is the camp’s powerful security boss, armed and dangerous. As the battle for Kuwait and terrorist attacks intensify, Rob must fight for his own survival.
Arabian Night Patrol, published under the pseudonym of Ian Thewlis, is based on my experience of working in the Saudi oil industry during the 1980s and 90s. Although I had that ‘lived experience’ to go on, as a Western expat, mine was inevitably a partial view and I wanted to give a fuller picture of the Gulf War. Consequently, I explored the conflicting perspectives and loyalties of a variety of Arab characters – including a Saudi detective, a young Islamist technician, an Egyptian manager – under the pressures of war and the threat of terrorism. In a sense the war puts everyone and their relationships to the test.
Reviewers on Amazon have commented on the contemporary relevance of the Arabian Night Patrol. One writes that ‘the novel deals with themes which continue to haunt the Middle East today.’ Another suggests that the novel is, ‘required reading after the recent drone strike against oil facilities in Saudi Arabia.’ Certainly, the geo-political issues haven’t gone away, and the power struggles continue for control of the Arabian/ Persian Gulf and the Middle East oilfields which still power much of the world’s economy.
Arabian Night Patrol was published by SilverWood Books earlier this year and is available in Kindle and paperback editions from Amazon.
POTB needs your help!
posted on 19 September 2019
Volunteers sought to keep us afloat
The Trustees are anxious to ensure early recruitment to these key roles, not only so that decisions can be made about a further edition, but also to maximise the handover period. For that reason, we are now reaching out to the creative community to help us find those new recruits asap.
POTB’s main aim [ie magazine production] is supported by an umbrella project which is a Scottish Incorporated Charitable Organisation [SCIO]. We function in a non-hierarchical, mutually cooperative way, directed by a Management Committee of elected Trustees who carry ultimate responsibility for the project. Alongside them, the Editor, Coordinator and Sales Manager share many of the decisions pertaining to the project and the magazine production and it is for these three positions that we are seeking new volunteers.
Everyone who works on POTB is a volunteer: the individual roles carry an element of autonomy, but use approved methodologies, agreed targets, and close involvement with those in associated roles. POTB has no business premises, the Team Members work from home, online, with occasional meetings in or near Aberdeen. Further background details on what we do and how we operate can be found on our About POTB web page.
The role of EDITOR
This person primarily deals with editorial issues within the team and with outsiders. During the production of a new edition of POTB, the Editor helps recruit, then supports our Selection Panels [Prose, Poetry and Art]; and oversees the team of Copy Editors, working alongside our specialist Scots/Doric Editor and the Consultant Editor [our arbitrator]. The Editor liaises with colleagues eg on the magazine content, the Launch event, etc; and is usually the Chair of Trustees.
The role of COORDINATOR
This role involves project management of both team and tasks. The POTB Coordinator helps assign and coordinate tasks with Team Members. Also, during magazine production, compiles a schedule of tasks critical to the agreed timetable, and ensures those tasks are completed timeously. The Coordinator works closely with both the Editor and the Webmaster to ensure the smooth running of the project.
The role of Sales Manager
The Sales Manager handles the sale and distribution of magazines, and oversees the financial status of the project. To date this role has included building and maintaining relationships with vendors; and maintaining records of magazines [current and previous]; also liaises with regional sales team and the PR/Marketing team.
Of course, this is just a summary of the many and varied responsibilities of these tasks. The role-holders interact and communicate with the Trustees, all the other Team Members, and with outside bodies, as required at various points throughout the magazine production cycle – indeed, throughout the whole project. Ideally, all three are Trustees of the SCIO.
Getting in touch
Would you be interested in joining the POTB team or do you know of someone else who might be? Then do please get in touch with us by email to email@example.com
Or, if you would like further information about these roles and the operations of POTB, then don’t hesitate to send us an email with your queries.
And, if you have any constructive comments on the future of project and directions it might take, please share them with us using the ‘Comments’ link below.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Pushing Out the Boat at Aberdeen University Mayfest
posted on 31 May 2019
Pushing Out the Boat held its first post-launch event for Issue 15 at Aberdeen University’s May Festival on Sunday 26 May with a programme of readings from our latest edition.
A hardy audience braved the rainstorm that nearly sunk the University grounds to hear the afternoon kick off with Sheila Templeton’s poem ‘The Iceberg that Sunk the Titanic’ written in her native Doric, a short piece to be cherished for a number of reasons, not least its giving an outing to one of my favourite Scots words – fantoosh.
Poems spanning a range of emotions and themes followed from Al McClimens (‘Yuri Gagarin Stole My Wife’), Helen Steadman (‘Quiet Sisters’) and A.C. Clarke’s intriguing ‘Poems I Don’t Want to Write’.
Interspersed with the poetry were extracts from short stories by Lily Greenhall (‘Frank’), Donna Rutherford (‘The Pack’), and Bruce Gardner (‘Rebel Angel’). The constraint of the festival format meant there was only time for extracts, but what an incentive to go away and find the full texts.
The readings ended with one story that there was time to hear in full – Richie Brown’s ‘A Shaggy Dog’. Richie described it as his party piece and short of having to issue a spoiler alert the only clue about its content must be that its title is not merely metaphorical. It was a good piece to round off a varied programme and send us away with a smile and a chuckle.
The programme for the event was devised by Issue 15’s guest editor Martin Walsh. Apart from Martin, readers included MC Judy Taylor and Eleanor Fordyce. Lily Greenhall, Bruce Gardner, Helen Steadman and Ritchie Brown read their own work. Our thanks to them all.
Footnote: audience members staying on from the previous session in the University’s Multi-Media Room will have seen a wonderful selection of images from Anke Addy’s new photographic essay, The Living Cairngorms. Anke is a member of the Pushing Out the Boat team, serving on the Art Panel for Issue 15, and kindly took all the photos at our recent launch.
Launch of Pushing Out the Boat Issue 15
posted on 29 April 2019
Sunday 7 April 2019, Phoenix Hall, Newton Dee Village
Great to see so many folk at this year’s launch (we counted 82) – some well-kent, many new and all welcome. Once again the event was held in the inspiring space of the Phoenix Hall, Newton Dee, handily situated for both City and Shire. Fittingly, both Aberdeen’s Lord Provost and the Provost of Aberdeenshire joined us to celebrate the occasion, hosted by our wonderful patron, Dame Anne Begg. And something unannounced on the day: all three editors, since the magazine became a fully voluntary organisation in 2005, were present and helping.
The main focus, as always, was the chance to hear the contributing writers read from their work and to see original images by the selected artists. Issue 15 Contributors had come from far and wide (even Australia!), to meet and mingle with invited guests and the team of volunteers who had worked so hard to bring this latest edition to fruition.
Judith Taylor, one of the three editors, convenor of this year’s poetry selection panel, and talented poet in her own right, presided over the afternoon’s readings. Ian Stephen, award-winning writer from the Western Isles, master-mariner and this Issue’s foreword writer, set the ball rolling with a tribute to the high standard of this edition’s contributions. Then came the readings themselves, with their broad range of genre, mood and dialect. There was Doric in abundance, Scots, Shetlandic, rural USA, and even a hint of old Norse – oh yes and some English too!
The readers led us on a journey, beginning with that first wondrous step into a book-filled space; then the comic sparkle of a young North-East quine on a holiday visit to Fife; onto the rescuing of a stranded turtle. We heard memories of a herring quine, and the sharp observations of a talented sixteen-year-old poet. Then to a riverbank in China and the menace of what might lurk within its murky waters; the poignancy of letting go a loved one; then to the undaunted spirit of an undersized quine confronting adult abuse. And last but not least in that first half: the tall tale of North-East man spotting the iceberg that sunk the Titanic (though several months later).
After the interval [with more meeting and mingling] came the memory of a past life touchingly woven into the fabric of the new; and an escapee from Rosehearty who couldn’t quite evade her roots. Then to the image of ‘a long line of Harleys ridden by portly Dutchmen down a glen’. A wild girl from rural USA – ‘Ma said she’d grow up to borrow your husband if you weren’t careful – with her pet quetzal bird. We heard, too, of learning to speak Doric at your Granma’s knee and of the magic of a boy’s first excursion to his favourite football team’s stadium; finally, from the smeddum in the tiny body of a dunnock, to the hilarious climax of an ardent terrier.
An afternoon filled to the brim with quality and pleasure; the first-time published standing proudly alongside POTB ‘old-timers’.
For more photos of the launch, check out the launch photo gallery.
A Seasonal Bouquet from Pushing Out the Boat
posted on 19 November 2018
‘ Whatever the weather, wherever you are, make sure you are accompanied for your pleasure and entertainment by North-East Scotland’s very own Pushing Out the Boat.‘
– from Frances Walker’s Foreword to Pushing Out the Boat Issue 12
Elizabeth Waugh [lino print]
As I write this, an October Indian summer has already hurtled downhill past a delayed North-East autumn to the long haul of winter. It’s a time to be reminded of the seasonal riches that lie in past issues of Pushing Out the Boat, our not-so little magazine of new writing and the visual arts now as old as the century – it first appeared in 2000 in, yes, autumn. Our wonderful contributors may forgive me if I slice and dice their precious work to pick out some seasonal gems. Selected extracts only hint, of course, at the deeper issues and bigger stories in their complete poems and stories. You’ll find a full listing of their work and the magazine issue it appeared in at the end of this article.
As autumn approaches, some of our authors sense the softer side of autumn, like Beate Allerton’s
temptation in the autumn mists,
the spices of soft and moist earth
and Angela Arnold’s
… hails of swallows and
then all that black bird-snow of starlings.
Of course, at 57⁰ North of the Equator (Aberdeen) or more, our contributors from hereabouts also know what the seasonal weather brings us, from Robert Ewing’s
and Fiona Russell’s
On a nor-easterly
gathering like a foul temper
That bastard ice wind
to Mary Johnson’s harsh reality that
For sax lang months norland fowk
Thole dreich, dark days and jeeli nichts.
It’s also not surprising in our largely rural area that birds and beasts attract attention. Jean Atkin writes that
In this endless winter at the end
of short afternoons
the sheep know
when I go out to cut holly
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
On ice heave ground I squat to watch
how their brown eyes are split
by horizontal yellow bands, and
I ache for green.
In more comforting mode, Maggie Wallis retrieves one of her hens ‘perched in the rosemary again’:
As I crunch a track over the snow
she makes a sound; that low
contented sound of hens.
I tuck her in closer.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
So many miles we have hiked
this same journey every night.
I and a white hen
Tramping over moonlit snow.
The imagery provides a reminder that not all is harsh in those ‘dreich, dark days’. Christine Laennec records
the soft gentle darkness
of my street in mid-winter
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
my neighbour waving to us
from her golden doorway
a moment’s greeting
before the clicking lock
returns her to the warmth of the fire.
After the excesses of Christmas and Hogmanay many of us, at least in Scotland’s North-East, feel the need like Jen Cooper to clear our minds with a New Year walk by the sea or up a favourite hill
We emptied our thoughts
off Oxen Crag today,
wind froze them to snow.
Finally, we know there’s a long way to go before spring but like Kris Erin Anderson we cope
Fields without flowers,
matted grass, trees too tired
to fight against the wind.
We are not at a beginning
but the middle – grey and silent.
We bury thoughts
beneath blankets and braid
our legs into one.
Whether or not you get to braid your legs into one, Pushing Out the Boat wishes you for the season all that you wish yourself.
Many back issues of Pushing Out the Boat are still available to buy. If any of the work featured here stimulates your interest, you can order copies online here.
This is the work cited in this article, arranged alphabetically by surname of author (and artist). Issues 9 – 13 are available to read in full online.
Beate Allerton, Woman on the Seasons, Issue 6, page 59
Kris Erin Anderson, January, Issue 11, page 5
Angela Arnold, Autumn Move, Issue 9, page 8
Jean Atkin, White, Issue 10, page 6
Jen Cooper, New Year, Issue 11, page 69
Robert Ewing, Drawing oot, in, Issue 6, page 47
Mary Johnson, Winter, Issue 6, page 87
Christine Laennec, Winter Lights Within, Issue 9, page 41
Fiona Russell, Ice Wind, Issue 9, page 28
Frances Walker, Foreword, Issue 12, page 1
Maggie Wallis, Night Walking, Issue 13, page 83
Elizabeth Waugh, Winter [lino print], Issue 9, page 30
Editing POTB: a peek behind the scenes
posted on 1 August 2018
Today’s blog post is an interview with the Guest Editor of the next issue of Pushing Out the Boat – Martin Walsh.
We’re talking to you today, Martin, as Guest Editor of the next edition of POTB but it’s certainly not your first involvement with the magazine. It’s about to go into its fifteenth issue, quite a remarkable record really for a regional writing and arts publication. When did you first get involved and how?
It must have been around 2003/4 that I first heard of the magazine. I liked the look of it and submitted a story. To my astonishment and delight it was accepted, my first ever publication in a high-quality literary journal. That was in Issue 4 (2005). Over the next three years the magazine transitioned from one financed and run by Aberdeenshire Council to a project run entirely by volunteers. I shared the Editor role for Issue 6 (2007) with the previous incumbent and then took over as the first volunteer Managing Editor for Issues 7-9. To be frank, I never felt very easy with the title but we are very much a team and my own deficiencies in the role were more than made up for by the quality and assistance of those around me. So taking on the role again is not quite so intimidating this time. NB I’m also the Sales & Finance Manager, and have been Treasurer, Publicity, and Prose Panel Convenor [as well as general dog’s body!]
And what have been the high (and for balance, low!) points over all those years?
The high points are always those moments when you hold a new edition in your hand for the first time: the culmination and justification for a lot of work and worry. And then there are the Launches when the Team and Contributors come together to celebrate the publication. To see the joy of the newly published contributors [especially those first-time published] is a reward in itself. The low points are probably those of any volunteer group: worrying about how and where to find the volunteers and the energy to keep the whole operation going.
I guess each editor of POTB since Issue 1 has brought their own overall approach to the task. What’s yours going to be and what do you see as the main challenges?
We have now evolved a pretty well-organised system, thanks to the talent within the Team, so that my job is now fairly minimal. I used to worry a great deal about whether we would receive enough quality writing and art during the call for submissions. But, touch wood, that hasn’t been a problem in recent years as we now have an extensive network, not to mention our wonderful website and improved publicity.
OK, so I submit a piece of work for POTB 15. It goes to one of your Selection Panels and is evaluated ‘blind’. How does that work and what’s your role in the process?
Our Panels (prose, poetry, art) are made up of three or four Panellists with a proven reputation in their field. We try to mix age, gender and background in each panel to provide a balance of viewpoints. We also try to refresh each panel regularly. It doesn’t matter to us if you are a famous writer/artist or if this is your first ever submission, the Selection Panellists won’t know who you are so your work will be evaluated on a level playing field. We’re delighted when we accept pieces by first time submitters – and we have rejected works by well known writers. My role is to recruit talented panellists, explain how the panels work and how they should approach the process – then not interfere in the selections other than offer advice.
If you had to give your own personal tips for a submission to get selected for publication in the magazine, what would they be?
That’s a hard one. I have a particular liking for the unusual and for humour but the panels act independently of my preferences. As a general dictum we do ask our panels to select as wide a variety as possible e.g. light/dark, local/global, Doric/English, humour/pathos. To achieve an ideal balance we sometimes have to reject good pieces where we have more than one on a similar theme, a point mentioned in the comprehensive guidance we have evolved – see our Submissions Hints and Tips.
So the Selection Panels have done their work, you’ve got all the prose, poems and artwork the editor wants to put in the magazine. What are the remaining essential steps to getting the magazine printed and how will you be involved in them?
After the selection process, the Panel Convenors, along with our Designer and myself sit down to agree the page-ordering and layout of the magazine. This is an important stage in the production cycle, our aim being to produce a magazine in which the juxtaposition of prose, poetry and artwork [i.e. the running order] provides maximum impact, also one that is pleasing to hold and to look at. The written pieces are then forwarded to our Copy Editors, who put the work into our House Style and may suggest minor changes to the authors. As Editor I am there for counsel, if necessary, plus we have a Consultant Editor as a final resort. Once we have received brief biographies from all the contributors, our layout team prepare the magazine, using a desktop publishing tool. The written pieces are sent to the authors for final proofing, then the whole magazine is transmitted to our printer. The last task, in which several of us participate, is to check the final galley proof.
I know POTB likes to launch each issue at a special event. Any thoughts on how and where you’d like POTB 15 to be launched and when do you expect that to happen?
The Launch will take place in the spring of 2019, most probably in late April, but we don’t yet know where. Ideally we’d like to return to the beautiful Phoenix Hall at Newton Dee, whose community ethos we share.
Finally, not all readers may know, but you’re a writer yourself. Do you have any projects on the go and will the editor’s job leave you any time to work on them over the next few months?
Yes, I am working on three different projects: a fictionalized memoir of my time in Africa; a collection of Latin-American short stories; and an assortment of magical realism tales. There will be moments when my own writing has to take a back seat, but the Editor’s job is not hugely time consuming given our task-sharing structure. There are other wonderful volunteers within the group who bear heavier workloads – they are the unsung heroes of our team.
The interview with Martin was conducted by POTB’s new(-ish) PR manager, Roger White.
Pushing Out the Boat Reading Event at Books and Beans
posted on 2 May 2018
Q. Where can you find poets from California, North-East Scotland, Bulgaria, the Yukon, Edinburgh, South Yorkshire, Texas, Mull, London, Shetland and Shropshire all in one room in Aberdeen?
A. Upstairs at Books and Beans in Belmont Street, Aberdeen.
Well, OK, the answer’s a bit of a cheat. It’s not so much ‘can’ as ‘could’ since they were assembled at Pushing Out the Boat’s latest evening of readings, on Thursday 26 April. And, no, the magazine hadn’t paid expenses for a stellar international cast to assemble for just one day. But they were all there in the way that’s most important for poets – through their words. More remarkably (to this first-timer) all their poems, with a leavening from one or two earlier editions, came from the latest edition, No 14, available, as they say, at all good retail outlets and online.
If you can’t get all your poets along to read their work, you corral the ones you can to do the deed. Which is why those present heard a team of seven excellent readers, all published in POTB, perform not only their own poems but those of other absent contributors too. Being eased into the secrets of magazine production and arts events (your author is a new team member helping POTB with its PR) gave privileged access to organiser Martin Walsh’s programming skills and how to get a good mix, not only of poetry, but of readers too. Authors might be surprised to find their finely crafted work reduced to a single word in the program eg … landscape, dark, realist, humour, poignant …’, but their juxtaposition is a necessary discipline to keep an audience engaged and make an event flow.
And flow it did, from Tobi Alfier’s opening Planting Level (an echo for me of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath with her ‘honor your wife with Rose of Sharon …’) to Martin’s closing New York Dialogue (no, I haven’t witnessed a squirrel and a humming bird having a blether about nuts in Central Park either). Having picked out the two works that book-ended the evening it’s disingenuous to invoke the old cliché about how invidious it would be to highlight individual contributions, but that’s what I’m doing. By way of compensation, the full programme follows this brief article. You know where to find the poems if you want to read any for the first time or perhaps refresh your memory of old friends.
A final surprise for me: this being Books and Beans, two halves of readings were divided by their usual open mic session: nothing to do with the magazine of course – except up popped Olivia McMahon to read a poem, My Uncle Sonny’s Jacket, from the very first edition of Pushing Out the Boat, published at the turn of the century. That in turn led me to discover later that Aberdeen poet Eddie Gibbons (not read on this occasion sadly) had work in both the first and most recent editions of the magazine, a unique distinction.
Oh, and that first Pushing Out the Boat was sub-titled ‘New Writing from the Northeast’. How far it’s spread its wings in fourteen editions.
The evening’s poems:
Toby Alfier – Planting Level
Jean Atken – Near Todleth
John Bolland – The Retention Bonus
Bernard Briggs – Anchored
Richie Brown – My Family Tree
Jim Conwell – Like a Fist
Seth Crook – Santa Was Assassinated
Yani Georgieva – Grief Walks into a Cafe
Lily Gontard – Okanagan
Mandy Haggith – Joke and Longannet
Ian McDonough – Oratorio
Thomas Rist – Ward (Again)
James Sinclair – Differential Equations
Judith Taylor – Ship to Shore (from Issue 13)
Loretta Walker – Different
Martin Walsh – New York Dialogue
Louise Wilford – Child
Catriona Yule – Guitar (from Issue 7)
With thanks to the evening’s team of readers, all naturally with work in editions of POTB:
John Bolland, Bernard Briggs, Richie Brown, Thomas Rist, Judith Taylor, Martin Walsh
And, of course, to the wonderful Books and Beans for hosting the evening.
Gallery of Young Artists' Work
posted on 13 February 2018
These images were submitted as entries for publication in ePOTB, an online magazine initiative aimed at showcasing writing and artwork by young people. Unfortunately, too few writing submissions were received to make a viable e-magazine; so, regretfully, we were unable to proceed.
However, we received enough artworks to make an online display an attractive option: so here is a small gallery featuring one piece from each artist who submitted. We hope you will enjoy the range of works on show.
Click on a thumbnail to start the show.
Frances Burnett Stuart, Age 17, St Margaret’s School for Girls, Aberdeen
Kiki Callaghan, Age 16, Berean Christian High School, California
Anna Dewhirst, Age 16, St Margaret’s School for Girls, Aberdeen
Lucia Eguiagaray, Age 12, St Margaret’s School for Girls, Aberdeen
Constance Frachon, Age 14, International School of Aberdeen, Aberdeen
Euan Hao, Age 12, Bucksburn School, Aberdeen
Hugo Jones, Age 14, Robert Gordon’s College, Aberdeen
Ailsa MacLeod, Age 12, Speyside High School, Aberlour
Emily Mitchell, Age 15, Hazlehead Academy, Aberdeen
Alexa Odell, Age 13, St Margaret’s School for Girls, Aberdeen
Eabha O’Sullivan, Age 14, St Margaret’s School for Girls, Aberdeen
Katyayeni Singh, Age 15, St Margaret’s School for Girls, Aberdeen
Selma Verstraaten, Age 13, Eagle’s Nest Homeschool, Netherlands
Hannah Kunzlik: I rewrote Matilda at the age of six
posted on 9 January 2018
Twenty-five year-old Hannah Kunzlik is one of Pushing Out the Boat’s youngest ever contributors. We asked her about how being published, at just 15, has inspired her to pursue her passion to become an author.
What, or who, inspired you to write?
I’ve always written, for as long as I can remember. My Grandmother had written our family history, and my Great-Grandfather wrote poems about his experiences as a refugee in World War Two – I can only assume I got this passion from them! My Dad also writes limericks, so it’s a family thing, really. Apparently, I rewrote Matilda at the age of six, maybe Mr Dhal didn’t give me the ending I’d hoped for!
You started submitting work to POTB whilst a teenager; how did you become aware of the publication?
My Dad worked with Martin Walsh, who was aware that I was keen on writing. Martin suggested that I submitted some work I’d drafted at school [anonymously], and I did. I couldn’t believe it when I was told my work had been selected – there’s such a high calibre of submissions with each call, let alone those that are featured! This really validated me as a writer and gave me the confidence to submit for competitions, including the Scottish Book Trust, where I was shortlisted in the young book writer’s category. [Editorial note: Hannah is too modest to mention she won the POTB Young Writer Award in Issues 7, 8 & 9]
You’ve spent time in Brussels and the US through internships – how do you keep your writing as a priority?
I was lucky enough to have spent nine months in Brussels on an internship with a network of European charities, where I decided to join a writing group. Being part of the group was fantastic – not just for keeping up my hobby, but for meeting some great people, who I’m still in touch with. I also worked in the United States Congress for six months in Washington as a legislative aide for Congressman Mike Honda, which was a fantastic experience. Writing speeches for him inspired me to complete an MSc in Political Communication at the University of Glasgow, which I finished this summer. I’m now working in communications for mental health charity Richmond Fellowship in Liverpool, as part of the 2017/18 Charity-works Graduate Training Scheme.
What’s next with your writing?
Well, other than achieving my Masters, I actually have about 56 projects ongoing! It’s impossible to work on all at the same time so I’m treating 10 as a priority. One of these is a series of short stories about superheroes, which I’ve written in a TV show format, and another is about a family, and the issues with identity and secrets surrounding them.
This sounds interesting; are the characters based on you or any of your family members?
Not really. I know that often authors intentionally (or unintentionally!) add parts of their personality, into their characters but I don’t do that. I probably develop characters that are closer to who I’d like to be, rather than who I am – especially from when I was younger – for example, being able to be that bit stronger, etc. during my formative years.
What would you say to young writers considering submitting their work to POTB in future?
Submit your work! I can’t speak highly enough of my experience with POTB. Not only did it provide me with a platform for my writing but – as I received such positive reactions from readers – it gave me the confidence to continue my passions. POTB hasn’t just influenced choices in my current studies but will have an impact on my future career; I’m determined to make it as an author. As a young writer, it can be daunting submitting work to the magazine but it provides a fantastic stepping stone and I’d really encourage young writers to use the opportunity.
Donnie Ross: Perceiving things differently
posted on 14 October 2017
Dr Donnie Ross has been a contributor to Pushing Out the Boat for several years. An ex-medical director of the flagship hospital in the North East of Scotland turned well-renowned artist, he has also been Chairman of Grampian Hospitals Art Trust (GHAT).
How, and why did you decide to start painting?
I started painting when I was at school. I was brought up in Sandhaven, a small fishing village in the North East, and used to spend my spare time drawing boats on the old bits of wood washed up on the shore. This got me familiar with depicting textures in various art forms.
At that time, it was hard to imagine a career in anything creative. For various reasons, I was encouraged to become a Doctor and channelled (most of!) my energy into my professional career.
Actually, I was told off at medical school for drawing in my Anatomy exams! Nonetheless, I had a fulfilling 40-year career in the medical profession.
What inspired you to become a full-time artist?
I was drawing and painting sporadically throughout my medical career, but when I retired in 2003 I built a studio in my garden (it took three years!) and now it’s my full-time pursuit – along with writing, music, studying languages and fighting for justice for NHS whistle-blowers!
I’ve always been fascinated with the way in which we each perceive things differently. This is especially true of art as what one person sees in an image, may not be what another does.
I wanted to produce images which really got people looking and thinking to decipher in a way they hadn’t anticipated.
Although I love representational art, currently I work without any real plan of creating a specific thing – I’m trying to remain unaware of what is it I’m producing. It’s not until I’m finished, and hopefully find something meaningful in the frame, that I crop it to a satisfying point of completion. If I get to that point, it’s a success!
I rarely name my paintings because I don’t want to project what I see into the mind of the viewer. I’d rather encourage people to find their own meaning in the image based on their incoming perceptions and the painting’s ambiguity.
As your medical career was based on science, and facts – how have you shifted your mindset?
As a Doctor, I’ve spent my entire adult life carefully analysing each eventuality to eliminate ambiguity (and risk) as far as possible – which is the exact opposite of what I do whilst painting.
Science assumes that information comes into our brains and we interpret the incoming perceptions moment-to-moment. I don’t think this is always true. I believe we perceive three or four cardinal items in context-based frames of reference, and we project 98% of what we expect to see within that context. Hence the saying, “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind”.
Really, ambiguity is incredibly important to art. As an artist, I’ve had to put my previous reliance on scientific objectivity aside to develop my creative side.
When did you first become aware of POTB?
I actually bought a copy a few years ago, really enjoyed the quality content and submitted my work for consideration for the edition thereafter.
Thankfully, my work was accepted and I was thrilled. It was fantastic to have my work published because, above all else, it validated that others appreciated my art and writing – especially when all submissions are judged anonymously.
POTB is such a great publication – it really is a highly regarded and key medium for artists and writers on the North East’s rich literary and art scene. I’m always proud when I’m lucky enough to feature within its pages.
An interview with Sheena Blackhall
posted on 1 September 2017
Sheena Blackhall is a one of the most prolific writers in the North East – her writing collection is vast, and she’s appeared within several editions of POTB. Most recently she was revealed as one of the one hundred people to be paid tribute to at Aberdeen’s Hall of Heroes exhibition, which will highlight locals who have helped transform the world.
The POTB team spoke with Sheena to discuss all things writing (in Doric too!) and POTB.
How, and why did you begin writing?
My love of writing goes back to primary school – apparently, the teachers thought my writing was great! It gave me such a sense of satisfaction… Until one teacher gave me a ‘clout about the lug’ for switching tense in the middle of a story, so I stopped, for a while…
This passion was reignited whilst I was studying for my teaching diploma – which I only did because I failed my first year at Gray’s School of Art and could just get the funding for a three-year course! The diploma was three years, so that was that. During this time, I wrote children’s stories for BBC Radio Scotland – and I’ve never looked back!
You write many of your stories in Doric, why is that?
It was my first language, and the one everybody spoke. My Dad could only speak Doric, my Mum could speak English due to her work as a secretary during the war and my Grandmother spoke nothing but late 1880s Doric. I had little choice really, they wouldn’t understand my English!
As it’s my mother tongue, I always feel that when I write in Doric its straight from the heart.
Why did you submit stories to Pushing Out the Boat (POTB)?
I saw POTB at various venues and was drawn to it because of the artwork on the front pages – it was refreshing to see artwork featured alongside quality literature and I like the ‘blind judging’ process and concept – so I began to submit a mixture of short stories and poems.
I see POTB as a boost to the Doric language and the culture and heritage of the North East. People like and respect the journal. As it’s a ‘real’ book, it verifies Doric as a language – there’s very few outlets which keep Doric alive.
What work are you most proud of?
Apardion, A Leopard’s Quest! which was published by The Reading Bus and tells the story of a leopard spirit from the Northern Lights. In his quest to discover if Aberdeen should be his place of birth, he visits 14 heritage landmarks and discovers secrets from the past.
You’re incredibly passionate about the power of the written word, why is this?
Writing keeps me sane! It’s such a strong way to express yourself. I actually also hold writing therapy classes where participants can externalise thoughts, and deal with their emotions, their grief and the issues they carry.
Would you encourage young writers to submit work for literary publications, such as POTB?
Absolutely, putting pen to paper about anything is something I encourage in children of all ages – to have the ability to convey a story through a poem, or a short piece of work is such a skill.
POTB in particular is very supportive of young writers; a number of teenagers have featured within its editions, so if you submit quality work – regardless of age you’re in with a chance of being accepted.
To see your work published is such a fantastic thing. That said, it doesn’t always happen on the first, second or even eighth attempt, but when, and if, it does, it’s wonderful to know that people are reading, and enjoying your work.
An interview with Stephen Pacitti
posted on 15 August 2017
Stephen Pacitti has been writing for many years. A retired Church of Scotland minister, he is fluent in Doric and English and writes stories in both languages. We asked him about his writing influences, inspirations and what POTB means to him.
Where did you serve as a minister?
I was born in Aberdeen and educated at Causewayend Primary Shool and the Aberdeen Grammar School before going on to Aberdeen University to study arts and divinity.
My first charge was Dundonnell, Wester Ross, before I moved on to Pollokshields, Glencairn in Glasgow. When I returned from Taiwan I served in the linked charges of Coulter, Libberton & Quothquan and Blackmount.
You spent quite a bit of time in Tawian – how did that happen?
It was through the Church of Scotland Board of World Mission that I went to lecture at Yu Shan Theological College, Hualien, on the east coast of Taiwan. It took a year or two to get over the culture shock, let me tell you! But it was a really fulfilling and life changing experience.
In the early days, when you can’t speak the local language, especially one with the particular difficulties of Chinese, you return to being a child unable to communicate the simplest of things. But after some years there I was sufficiently fluent in Chinese to give my lectures in the language.
When did you begin writing?
I’ve always enjoyed writing. Whilst at Grammar Lower School I was asked to read my three-part short story to the class. I then won third prize in the Debating Society short story competition when I was in third year at secondary, and in sixth year I won the prize for translating verse from Latin into English.
Whilst in Taiwan I started writing a novel, nearly 2000 words a night! I’d keep a journal of ideas and thoughts and transcribe that on to a PC. As my family was still living in Scotland at that stage it helped fill my leisure time.
You’ve featured in POTB on several occasions, what does it mean to you to have your work published in it?
I don’t suppose any author really writes in a vacuum – every writer needs an audience or a readership. For me the important thing is that a story has an effect on the reader, whether it entertains amuses, moves, challenges or informs and I’m very grateful to POTB for giving me the opportunity to be read.
It’s a fine, well-produced magazine with the highest standards. Its occasional gatherings, when works are read by their authors, provide an excellent platform for promoting writing in the North East.
What do you hope to achieve in the future through your writing?
Simply the satisfaction of creating and knowing that my writing has been of interest and has given pleasure to others.
I’m perhaps most proud of my short story Binary System about an elderly man losing his wife. I likened the relationship of the two to the relationship between two stars revolving round a common centre of gravity in what is called a binary system. Those characters just crawled onto the page; I’m told that the story has touched many people. It’s actually written in Doric, and could be quite a challenging read for a non-Doric speaker, but it’s such an emotive story that I feel it was best to write it in that language. English just doesn’t capture the mood in quite the same way.
I’m currently engaged in finishing a humorous novel in English which is about a rather eccentric missionary – many might say it’s semi-autobiographical!
If I can continue to strike emotion in the reader, then that’s what matters – making the reader feel. (That is ‘feel’ in its English meaning, not the Doric!)
An Interview with Heather Reid
posted on 19 July 2017
Pushing Out the Boat receives contributions not just from all over Scotland, but from around the world, showing the high regard for our quality content. One such contributor is Perthshire-based, Heather F. Reid. We spoke with Heather to find out more about her journey to becoming a published writer.
What inspired you to become a writer?
I’ve always enjoyed writing. I was actually first published in primary school when I was seven in the school magazine! It was a poem called ‘Red’ which I can still recite. My Mum was incredibly encouraging about my writing which helped too. I’m also an avid reader and the two, reading and writing, often go hand in hand.
On leaving university (I studied at Aberdeen), I moved with my young family to settle in Oban where I was a stay-at-home mum to my two children. At that point, my writing was a form of escapism – I spoke to adults on the page about things I couldn’t talk about during the day at home.
Which type of writing do you focus on?
I started writing poetry but switched to fiction. I’m quite a quiet person but I enjoy people-watching and making up stories about their lives in my head.
Much of my inspiration comes from things I’ve experienced first-hand and many of my stories are set in Oban or places I’ve holidayed. It’s incredibly therapeutic; it’s just finding the time and inspiration for it that’s the challenge!
Do you let others read your work before submitting to competitions and journals?
I’m a member of the Soutar Writers in Perthshire (and was also the group’s chair from 2010 – 2013), so usually I’d ask one of the group to read my work for feedback – it’s important to have another pair of eyes or set of ears!
I’d never let my close friends or family read my stories ahead of them being published. To me, writing is a very personal thing and I like the anonymity of it all.
When did you begin submitting work for the public domain?
I love that stories and poems can spark so much joy in others and I realised that my works could maybe do that too but that, whether or not they would, my poems were no use on my computer – so best to get them out there.
In 2004, I submitted a poem for an Ottakar’s book store competition of which, to much surprise, I was runner up! This boosted my confidence and I began to enter more competitions which also resulted in me being runner up in the National Galleries of Scotland competition in 2010 – the prize for that was a place on a course lead by Carol Ann Duffy.
How did you become aware of POTB?
A fellow Souter writer had been published in a previous edition and brought it to the group’s attention. I hadn’t had much of my work published at that time but loved the journal so thought I’d give it a try. Try I did, and four pieces of my work were selected (the first time that had ever happened, apparently!) – I was absolutely thrilled.
Having studied at the University of Aberdeen I feel such an affinity with the North East so it was even more special.
What does it mean to have your work featured in POTB’s pages?
The journal itself is a fantastic mix of art and writing and it’s lovely to feature alongside the other writers and in amongst their distinctive writing styles. Most importantly for me is the team involved with its production – each of them is so warm, welcoming and encouraging. It’s just wonderful to be part of It.
What do you hope to achieve with your writing in the future?
To finish the novel I’ve been writing for the past ten years!
Love to Write? Advice from John Bolland
posted on 21 June 2017
Our interviewers caught up with one of Issue 14’s contributors, John Bolland, to find out more about the skills required to have works published in the likes of POTB.
What skills and qualifications, if any, do you need?
The only qualification you need is to be able to put pen to paper and tell a story. Writers give readers a snippet of their thoughts – be that an experience or something entirely from imagination.
It’s true to say that if you never write anything you’ll never publish. Lots of people spend their time planning to write but never quite finishing a piece which is obviously the most important step.
Obviously, your writing has to be of a certain quality which captures a mix of style, voice, a distinctive point of view, interesting narrative and topicality but there’s no one formula. Each publication has different interests and values and it’s generally down to the editor or judging panel. Spelling and grammar helps!
There are many creative writing courses available, which can be useful in the provision of structure and deadlines as well as offering support in the creation of individual networks and some basic marketing skills.
Are there any groups you’d suggest joining?
The writing community in Scotland is supportive and welcoming to writers of all levels who are committed to their work and to helping others on a reciprocal basis.
There are several groups in Aberdeen and the North East and a thriving network of interlocking writing groups, including Lemon Tree Writers. For poets, there are also established and emerging events at venues such as Books and Beans and new spoken word events at Underdog and the Blue Lamp.
More widely, the Federation of Scottish Writers is a good online network and the Society of Authors provides a range of useful resources as well as the POTB website, which has a useful links section.
Creative Learning has also worked hard these past few years to develop and create opportunities for emerging and established writers.
How do you start contacting publishers?
There are a few steps:
• Buy, subscribe to or read magazines and publications you feel may feature your work.
• Think about how your work matches its submission guidelines: word count limits, typical length of poems, formats and subject matter. It’s not that editors aren’t on the lookout for compelling, original work, but each has a ‘house-style’ and you’ll waste less time by targeting.
• Read and comply with the submission guidelines – otherwise you’re likely to be filtered out at the first stage.
• Polish your piece before submission, then ask another to check it.
• Post or upload it alongside a polite, informative covering letter. Don’t hide your light under a bushel but don’t compare yourself to established literary superstars!
• Record when you think you’ll hear back, and wait.
• If you don’t hear back, or your work is rejected, look at the piece again. How could it be improved? If it can, edit accordingly.
What can you do to boost your presence in the writing community?
Participate in writing groups, attend festivals and readings – open mics too, if the opportunity arises! Be generous and supportive of other writers, review and promote their work if you feel it has merit – what goes around comes around.
Follow others and enhance your presence on platforms such as Twitter, it’s a fantastic way of finding out what’s going on.
Why are publications such as POTB so important for new, and experienced, writers alike?
It’s a stable, high quality outlet for writing which has an established profile and presence. POTB prides itself on its ‘blind’ selection process which ensures work is accepted on the quality of the submission rather than ‘who you are’, giving new writers the opportunity to have their work published on merit.
The team is dedicated to producing a widely promoted, high-quality magazine. Many pamphlets or transient magazines get ‘lost in the shelves’ whereas POTB has persisted as one of several key magazines on the Scottish literary scene, within which I’m immensely proud to feature.
An Interview with Martin Walsh
posted on 31 May 2017
An interview with Martin Walsh, writer and current Chairman of POTB.
Where are you from?
Originally from Kent, I’ve lived in Aberdeen since 1968.
What is your involvement with Pushing Out the Boat (POTB)?
I’m one of over 20 volunteers who produce the magazine – from seeking submissions, the blind selection process (to ensure total impartiality) then deciding the running order, through editing and design – to launching and selling the edition. Plus a fair amount of ‘business development!’
Why is the running order & design so important?
It’s one of the wonderful things about POTB – the juxtaposition of poems, stories and art; well-known writers and artists featured alongside the first-published. The simple, sophisticated layout allow each work to breathe on the page.
As a writer, have you ever been published in POTB?
Yes, I’ve had several stories and even a couple of poems featured; but the anonymous nature of the selection process means that I’ve also had work rejected!
When, and how did you first hear about POTB?
I became aware of POTB in 2002 and was encouraged to submit work. My first story was published in issue 4. It felt a little bit like first love.
Why did you want to get involved in the process?
Originally an Aberdeenshire Council initiative, supporting the North-East’s rich literary scene, the publication came under threat in 2006. We couldn’t let such a valuable resource lapse, so a group of volunteers stepped in. From then, our team has steadily grown, along with our website. Our aim is to become part of the local ‘literary firmament’. By including works in Doric, we also help keep the language alive!
Can you speak Doric?
Aye – mibee, bit nae as muckle as sim o the ither contributers!
Where do you get your inspiration for your stories?
As an ex-marine biologist, I’m lucky enough to have travelled and worked around the world, beginning as a volunteer in Sierra Leone. Being there in the 1960s – a unique time in the country’s history – I witnessed many incredible things. These kick-started my desire to both write and to reproduce some of the accents I encountered along the way.
Why should readers consider POTB?
We’re unique! With such a wonderfully varied collection of short stories, poems and artwork, both local and global, we feel POTB is a tribute to North-East Scotland.
Tell us an interesting fact about the latest edition
The artwork for this edition’s front cover was gifted to us by internationally acclaimed artist Tom Hammick. Having someone of such stature in the art world donate his print is an acknowledgment of the exceptional standard of work within POTB, and an honour to the team. And of course the wonderful Foreword by much loved and admired author, Wayne Price.
Martin, far right in the white shorts, in Africa.
Reflections on the Launch of Pushing Out the Boat Issue 14
posted on 16 May 2017
Reflections on the Launch of Pushing Out the Boat Issue 14 on 30 April 2017
An interview with poet Yani Georgieva by RGU student journalist Harrison Abbott.
1. How do you feel your reading went today?
Reading your own poetry is always slightly terrifying, no matter how many times you’ve done it before. When people read your poems off a page, they have the freedom to give them their own voice and meaning – which can sometimes be completely different from what you intended. I always worry that, when I read my poetry out loud, I intrude on that personal bubble: a bit like watching a film adaptation of your favourite book. The audience was very open and warm, so in that sense I think the reading went well – but there was a lot of talent in the room.
2. What did you like about the event?
Pushing Out the Boat feels like a collective more than a publication. To me, the event felt like being in a cosy weekend writing club. It was very calm and open, and reading aloud to the audience felt a bit like reading your poems to people you have been writing with for years. There was an incredible variety in the poems we heard as well – we jumped from squirrels, to death, then back to sheep – which made the event even more of a joy to be part of.
3. Which contributions did you particularly enjoy/admire?
I think there was a great variety in the pieces we heard, so there was something to admire in all of them. I loved Jim Conwell’s pieces, ‘Like a Fist’ and ‘My Sister is Dying’. His writing is so compact and concise, every word is indispensable and punches you in the right place. I also loved Gavin Gilmour’s prose and, of course, Martin Walsh’s skilful re-enactment of a dialogue between a Mexican humming bird and a New York squirrel. I’ll be thinking of that one for weeks.
4. What do you seek to produce in your writing? What inspires you most to write?
I write to help myself unpick and understand the things I am going through. Sometimes, for months, I find myself writing about the same idea over and over again until one day I put the pen down and think: Yes, this is it. I understand it now. I like the challenge of making vague concepts, like grief or nostalgia, very concrete, because that way we get a tiny glimpse at life through someone else’s eyes. I like poetry that’s accessible, blunt, and honest, so that is the kind of poetry I try to write.
An Interview with Tom Hammick
posted on 7 May 2017
An interview with acclaimed artist, Tom Hammick who recently donated the use of his print ‘Violetta and Alfredo’s Escape’ for the front cover of Issue 14 of Pushing Out the Boat.
Where are you based?
I live in East Sussex, which is where my painting studio is but I also have a print one in London. I travel quite a bit too, including to Aberdeen where I’m currently working on a new project called Lunar Voyage at Peacock Visual Arts. It’s a series of 14 or so woodcuts about a journey of self-discovery – my studio isn’t big enough to accommodate each woodcut but Peacock has the equipment required, and the skilled master printmakers to go with it! I also really enjoy spending time in the North East, so it works out well.
Tell us about your career, how did it all begin?
My mother was a poet, now a novelist, and my Dad a bookseller who collected art. Both were very creative so we talked about art, literature and ideas a lot. Because of this, I’ve been aware and interested in it from an early age.
My Godmother Cathy Lee, who was married to Laurie Lee, used to take me to The National Gallery in London each holiday which really cultivated my passion for painting. I started to write about art for the school magazine and it was a natural progression for me to study and therefore graduate with a degree in Art History from the University of Manchester. Though, throughout my time as a student, I was always drawing.
After university, I got a job as a Stonemason which fulfilled a ‘romantic passion’, but probably little else! I still wanted to paint so I went back to study at Camberwell, this time as a mature student, in Fine Art and an MA in Printmaking. Whilst studying, I was lucky to secure an exchange placement in Nova Scotia in Canada. I completely fell in love with the outdoors and the edginess of wilderness. Canada is so epically vast – I find the wild and the sense of the unknown charged with wonderment. It’s with these experiences that I’ve since realised that my attachment to art comes, in part, from expressing what it is like to be human – a search for a way to make sense of living on Earth.
You also lecture in Fine Art, Painting and Printmaking – where do you find the time?
I love teaching; it’s incredibly important to me. It’s easy to get carried away with the ‘art world’ but lecturing keeps me grounded, it takes me back to the start of my own early life as an artist finding my way, finding my language, and keeps me in touch with what’s going on. It’s a privilege to teach. For many of my students it’s the first time they’ve been away from home and the whole experience – making new friends, finding where you fit and your own rhythm – can be quite jarring. I try, we all try as tutors, to give them stability & guidance & a bit of focus to support their individual visions.
As an artist who teaches art part time I think my role is to try and add fuel to the inner creative fire and give them what they need to grow throughout their three years at university before continuing their quest in the wider world.
Why did you donate your work to Pushing Out the Boat?
It’s such a fantastic magazine. Outlets such as POTB are incredibly important for supporting up-and-coming writers and artists, but above all else are essential for highlighting and enriching local culture. I’m a huge fan of literary publications and the work within POTB is of such high standard – it’s been a pleasure to be involved and work with the team.
What inspired the print?
I created Violetta and Alfredo’s Escape whilst I was in residency at ENO (English National Opera). It’s inspired by La Traviata, which is one of my favourite operas. In the scene, I’ve depicted a different ending from the tragic one we all know; the two lovers escaping the stringent morals of the bourgeois society which separated them to live a simple life.
In some ways life hasn’t changed much, especially in the UK, which is why art is so important. In a society that seems, once again, to be becoming socially rigid, art and the language of creative communication is essential in helping our young escape the trappings of their socio-economic backgrounds. Art is a great leveller.
~ ~ ~
John Mackie: a recollection
posted on 20 April 2017
To mark the death of John Mackie, one of the North-East Scotland’s most respected and loved poets, we asked POTB’s former editor and poet, Judith Taylor, to write a recollection of John and to select one of his poems for our readers to enjoy. John served briefly as a guest on our Poetry Selection Panel. More about John and his work, including a soulful photo of the young John in 1969, can be found on his web site.
John Mackie: a recollection by Judith Taylor
When I was still new to the monthly poetry nights at Books and Beans in Aberdeen, one evening in Open Mic a dude in a hat got up and read a poem about a Chinese kite. You can hear him read it, along with some of his other poems, here. And that was my introduction to John Mackie.
This is a personal reminiscence. When we remembered John at Books and Beans in January, after his death just before Christmas, I said I wasn’t going to say much about his life because, frankly, I didn’t know the half of it. Born in London, with roots in the North East and on Raasay (where he claimed Sorley MacLean as a distant relative), John was known to us as a poet and songwriter, but he had also been a musician, a playwright, a teacher, a management consultant, and a traveller through Europe and beyond.
He was, I said, the sort of person who passes into legend, and I think he wouldn’t have been displeased to do so. He liked nothing better than a good story. We still have his poetry and his songs, but we miss the voice that animated them – a voice as rich and gravelly as his beloved rivers – and we miss the stories that voice told, the glint in his eye belying his deadpan lead-up to some outrageous claim or appalling pun, the expansive conversation that made you feel you’d known him for years. Those who had known him for years recall he could be awkward, grouchy, demanding, and I don’t doubt it. But I cherish the memory of his wit, his conviviality, his engagement: his fearless ability to turn up, commandeer the nearest available musician, and improvise up a storm.
And I honour, too, the way his work kept on flowering late in his life, in print and online: his publications in magazines like Clear Poetry and I am not a silent poet; his participation in the 52 group, and the online friendships that came from it, and that produced, after his death, such an outpouring of elegy and commemoration. Even in the last year of his life, despite the painful and debilitating illness that was to claim him, he refused to be curtailed, contributing poems of passion and indignation to causes he felt strongly about, and travelling all sorts of distances, fragile but undaunted, to take part in events. It seems fitting that almost the last time I heard him was at Books and Beans, reading his contribution to the Open Mic anthology.
After his death, in an online conversation, I used the word gallantry about him, but I think the word I was really looking for was panache, in the sense in which Cyrano de Bergerac used it: his plumed hat, that he flourished in the face of his enemies, even when the enemy was death itself. John’s hat had no plume, but by heck its owner had panache.
My favourite among John’s poems is “Hard Frost” (see below), from his sequence “Easter Tomloan Suite”, which was published in his collection Pearl Diving by Moonlight (Malfranteaux Concepts, 2012), and which I heard him perform with Anna Lavigne, one of his regular collaborators, as part of a Con Anima concert in December 2015.
Goodbye John. Fly free.
Easter Tomloan 4 – Hard Frost
frost has laid a hard bed
sprinkled here and there
with polished diamonds
in overt invitation to the sky
to let fall
the first feathering flakes
of a blanketing snow
alert to its imminence
the robin, finches
and the youngest crows
flicker from tree to table
and back to branch
small crumbs of warming
dull, ice-streaked, scuffed
and stained with wear
but not, yet, beyond repair
these battered boots will last
just long enough
to travel hard and rough
to that place
of driven snow where
there is only the sound of
a single heart beating
at walking pace
Scottish PEN - defending the freedom of writers and readers
posted on 24 March 2017
In a world in which having a point of view means body-swerving through an increasingly complex maze of table-thumping rhetoric, tweet-rage, fake news and, somewhere, evidence-based reason, it’s easy to fall foul of the power-brokers who want to control everything. Writers, whether of fiction, news, magazines columns and editorials, social comment, blogs, analytical essays, tweets, rants and whatever other forms are developing as I write, are, by the very fact of using words publicly, at risk of offending someone, somewhere. Where you are in the world determines just how much at risk, and what the consequences might be of getting it wrong. In some powerful watchers’ eyes – which are many because thousands are paid to be their eyes – consequences might include losing your job, or home, imprisonment, harassment of your family members, flogging, ‘disappearance’, death.
In Saudia Arabia, for example, Palestinian born poet Ashraf Fayadh is languishing in gaol following his conviction on a charge of apostasy. He was originally sentenced to death, but world-wide protest in January 2016, organised by PEN International, involving readings of his work at locations throughout the world including 3 in Scotland (one in Aberdeen), took place a week before his appeal and is widely viewed as influencing the dropping of the death sentence. This still leaves him facing 800 lashes, and an 8 year prison sentence. And in China internationally renowned artist and Nobel Prize winner Liu Xiaobo who stood up to the government by advocating freedom of expression has disappeared in the prison system there, and his wife is under house arrest, and again International PEN is one of many organizations and individuals actively trying to achieve his release.
Scottish PEN, as part of International PEN, is in its 90th year of fighting for freedom of expression for writers, and, therefore freedom of choice for readers too. As well as being involved in campaigns to highlight individual writers oppressed in many parts of the world, it is increasingly active in pressuring our own government on issues where freedom of speech is threatened. In recent months Scottish PEN has made formal written representations to government consultations re defamation law, and also the question of surveillance which is included in the 2015 Investigatory Powers Bill – which includes proposals, for example, giving the government powers to store all details of your internet connection records (ICRs), and in some circumstances to ‘interfere with’ equipment ie intelligence services to hack into your computer. A recent survey asks Scottish PEN members about the effects of this kind of surveillance on their own writing – do you, as a writer, hesitate about expressing some views for fear of how they might be viewed by your employer, or the government, and what consequences they could have for you? Is this kind of often unacknowledged self-censorship a significant damper on freedom of written expression already?
Alongside these campaigns, and contributions to thinking about the route legislation is taking regarding individuals’ freedoms of expression, Scottish PEN is taking a proactive approach to encouraging those who are generally unheard to speak out. The new MANY VOICES project will link people in minority groups – women in prisons, refugees, troubled teenagers – with both locally based and international writers to encourage the development of writing and performance skills, and the confidence that all writers gain from being taken seriously and achieving. Women in HMP Grampian prison are amongst those taking part.
So, Scottish PEN’s activities are a kind of bridge spanning the whole gamut of efforts to protect and encourage freedom of expression in writing, from local action groups through national events to co-ordinated international campaigns on behalf of oppressed writers, and from the under-valued and represented through well-known national writers to internationally famous artists. The huge majority of those doing this work are volunteers, writers who are passionate about the freedoms of their fellow writers when these are abused, as well as about protecting their own. If you’re a writer yourself, it’s pretty much an essential part of raising your own writerly awareness of the social context in which you and others are writing. If you’re a reader, knowing what pressures many writers face from their own governments and others in order to bring their words to you is itself an essential part of appreciating the work. OK, in this country, now, the consequences of writing the ‘wrong’ thing might not yet include “losing your job, or home, imprisonment, harassment of your family members, flogging, ‘disappearance’, death”, but with government by tweet no longer some crazy fiction, who knows what’s next?
Both writers and readers can be members of Scottish PEN. Find out more on scottishpen.org/
Poems for Valentine's Day
posted on 14 February 2017
posted on 14 February 2017
In a late night club
As she orders at the bar,
A cliché joins her:
A tall, dark, handsome stranger;
Catches her eye,
Pays for her drinks
Before there is time to protest.
Can I kiss you?
I don’t know you. I’ve eaten curry
What type of curry?
I like Biryani.
She likes him
And cannot think why not.
For how long should we kiss?
Make it seven and a half.
There’s a tremour in hands
Still holding iced glasses.
She holds her garlic breath,
He smells of salt and sweet.
It is over too soon.
Ten seconds – you tricked me!
The curry was good.
The Love Calculations of the Gentleman Spider
posted on 10 February 2017
knowing he may be utterly consumed by his great love
he prepares the food thoughtfully
and in serving, stands well back
observing her replete, relaxed
he sets out cautiously
drawn along the twin-tight, steel-eyed gossamers of
lust and fear
plucking love songs as he goes
in heart-stop hopes
his identity (lover rather than dessert)
is unequivocally clear
only then he begins
to tip-tongue his way
past her teeth
posted on 9 February 2017
I saved the shoes
I wore that night.
Sexy shoes you said
And I agreed.
You led me down the garden path
‘Let’s sow some seeds.’
I thought it quaint,
The way you spoke.
I saved the shoes.
I saved a seed.
I left you for another bloke,
It’s what I do—
You’d call it need.
He moans a bit,
He’s not so cute.
He can’t stand the kids.
He likes the shoes.
posted on 7 February 2017
Driving back from the dance, in the old Morris Minor, with you
whoever you were, spilling out of your long party frock
so white skinned and cheerful and sleepy; the nearly breaking
dawn bringing a cool damp to your young lips and your nose;
and me bursting for a piss.
We were never in love, but,
my! were you adorable, and fun; and was I scared.
So we played at it and got nowhere and felt relieved
and glowed in the certainty we were desirable, each
to each; so we grabbed some kitchen snack and off
to our separate beds, alive with the knowledge of what
could have been.
And now you have gone, all of you,
and I, in a threadbare jersey, hanging onto
my own teeth and some of my hair, have a sudden
frisson of panic that I let it away – blew it.
If I could re-run time now, would I gorge,
like a pig at your trough, without any remorse? What
of the magnetic field of innocence? This
I can’t answer, only to shut my eyes and smell
once more your hair …
Welcome to the POTB Blog
posted on 6 February 2017
Welcome to the POTB Blog. Here we plan to post extracts from our magazines, author profiles, commentaries and more.
And, to celebrate Valentine’s Day, we’ll start with some romantic poems from earlier editions …