Pushing Out the Boat: Our Blog
- 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)
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.