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Issue 15

Pushing Out the Boat: Our Blog

Welcome to the POTB Blog where we post articles about our activities and the people involved, including extracts from our magazines, author profiles, commentaries and more. If you have ideas for the Blog, do get in touch.


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A Seasonal Bouquet from Pushing Out the Boat

By Roger White
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

Winter

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,
savouring
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

Wind-skelfs, then
bullet-rain bruisin
the day

and Fiona Russell’s

On a nor-easterly
it comes,
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

By Roger White
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

By Roger White
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
Catriona Yule

And, of course, to the wonderful Books and Beans for hosting the evening.

Roger White


By POTB
posted on 13 February 2018

 

Hannah Kunzlik: I rewrote Matilda at the age of six

By POTB
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

By POTB
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

By POTB
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? Sheena Blackhall

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

By POTB
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

By POTB
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

By POTB
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.
• Repeat.

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.