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Pushing Out the Boat all the way to Stirling

At the end of March, Pushing Out the Boat were privileged to join Stirling Makar Laura Fyfe in hosting The Book Nook’s Forth Friday reading night. The monthly event invites readers to share their poetry and prose in an open mic evening filled with friendly faces and topped with fine pieces aplenty. Venturing to the central belt was a first for Pushing Out the Boat and an opportunity we hope presents itself to us again.

Attendees were greeted by the bookshop-cafe’s inviting glow and cosy atmosphere, and welcomed in with tea and cakes. We sat down amongst an eclectic mix of readers: personally invited contributors to Pushing Out the Boat’s latest Issue 17, Stirling locals, newcomers and oldtimers, and one or two students. We were glad to see some magazine contributors local to the central belt who may have missed the chance to attend our Issue 17 launch held in Aberdeen earlier last year.

A colourful bookshelf adorned with fairy lights, the perfect backdrop for the readers.

The evening was structured such that allocated slots were assigned to magazine contributors with open mic slots dotted between, introduced initially by Laura Fyfe and compèred by our own Judith Taylor. First to kick off the Pushing Out the Boat contributions was Emma Mooney with her story “Just Like Lynda Carter” (Issue 17, page 72), followed by several more familiar faces: Laura Fyfe with her poem “Scream If You Want Tae Go Faster” (Issue 17, page 84), Tom Murray’s prose “If the Face Fits” (Issue 17, page 42), and poems “Volcano” (Issue 17, p.17) and “Clutching” (Issue 17, p.62) by Matthew Keeley. After a short interval with more tea and chatter, we were treated to Morag Smith’s poems “His Number” (Issue 17, p.65) and “This Summer” (Issue 17, p.70), followed by short story “The Sneck” (Issue 17, p.55) by Don Taylor, poems “The Complexity of Simplicity” (Issue 17, p.5) and “Moving House” (Issue 17, p.54) by Dorothy Baird, and finally our own Judith Taylor’s poem, “Hill of Rubislaw” (Issue 17, p.58). Judith also treated us to a reading of the late Sheila Templeton’s poem, “The Iceberg that Sunk the Titanic” (Issue 15, p.80) which can be read here, as one of our sample pieces for Isssue 15.

Laura Fyfe reading “Scream If You Want Tae Go Faster”

The variety of genre and style was compelling, and team members agreed it is always a joy to hear the voice and see the expression behind a story or poem we may have read to ourselves several times. Some new faces appearing on open mic slots provided a refreshing selection of talent, too.

Tom Murray reading “If the Face Fits”

The evening felt relaxed and friendly, which carried into conversations with open mic attendees at the end of the night who inquired if Pushing Out the Boat were touring Scotland with our readers… maybe one day!

For more pictures of the event, head over to our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. We would like to thank The Book Nook for their hospitality and for the exciting opportunity for Pushing Out the Boat further into Scotland.

Read the Forth Friday contributions for yourself in Issue 17, available for purchase on our sales page.

From Fiddle to Boat – a piece of North East history

If you have been following Pushing Out the Boat since its beginning in 2000, you may remember its predecessor, The Broken Fiddle. With Issues spanning from 1993 to its last publication at the turn of the century, the magazine not only featured a sumptuous range of poetry and prose focussing initially on the Banff and Buchan area, but also a selection of playscripts, advice columns for budding writers, a “news and reviews” section dedicated to local goings-on, and even a section dedicated to dance.

Iain Macaulay, publisher, Banff and Buchan District Council’s Arts Development Officer for early issues, suggested the magazine’s holistic coverage of the arts served to “demonstrate that the arts can be appreciated and enjoyed by everyone”. We can see where he’s coming from – the earlier magazine releases even featured a special section titled The Red Jelly Party, written by children, for children. Perhaps such a far-stretching coverage of the arts proved overly ambitious, for the magazine’s latter issues appear to have reduced their contents to poetry and prose, but preserve their “news and reviews” column.

While it was initially published by the District Council, The Broken Fiddle was taken over by its successor Aberdeenshire Council in 1996.  Its first editor was Caithness writer George Gunn, its last Angus Dunn. Sadly, Angus passed away in 2015 after a prolonged illness, but is remembered for his flair for poetry, especially that concerned with the natural world. An obituary for Angus written in The Scotsman describes his poetry as “magical”, such that it “lures us into a world where crows are fruit, the wind is a wire, the moon has a voice and water holds memory”. It was to be three years after the demise of The Broken Fiddle before Aberdeenshire Council published the first issue of Pushing Out the Boat and another seven before the boat floated free to become the magazine we know and love, run entirely by volunteer effort.

Contemporary submissions to Pushing Out the Boat show a similar valuation for the natural world. You may recognise some familiar names such as musician, writer and poet Haworth Hodgkinson, who submitted to both The Broken Fiddle and to Pushing Out the Boat. North East poet and member of Huntly Writers, Maureen Ross’s poems also feature in both.

Perhaps you recall the days of The Broken Fiddle, or are lucky enough to own an issue yourself? If so, we invite you to share your recollections by adding a comment below.

[Our thanks to former team member Martin Walsh who donated an almost complete run of The Broken Fiddle to the Pushing Out the Boat archive.]

 

Sheila Templeton: a personal appreciation

Pushing Out The Boat was deeply saddened to hear of the loss of Scottish poet Sheila Templeton in November 2023. An esteemed poet in both Scots and English language, she supported the magazine for many years, having both contributed her own poems, and latterly, wrote the foreword for POTB issue 16.  Below, team member and fellow poet, Judith Taylor, pays her tribute to Sheila.


Sheila reading her poem ‘The Iceberg that Sunk the Titanic’ at the launch of Issue 15

I have to admit that when I first knew Sheila, I was a little intimidated. She was a tall, statuesque woman, always glamorously dressed, and with tremendous presence, on and off the podium. I loved her poetry, but I was shy of her as a person. But then I gave her a lift to an event in Aberfeldy, and it turned out to be the most uproarious journey – we talked, and laughed, our heads off all the way there and all the way back. Later, when I bought a copy of her pamphlet Tender is the North (Red Squirrel 2013) she inscribed it “Really good to get to know you properly!” And that was what she was like – her poetic talent allied with a warm heart, an unfailing interest in the people and events she encountered, and a tremendous gift for friendship, as the outpouring of affection and tribute that greeted the news of her death bears witness.

Sheila was born in Aberdeenshire: her father was a farm-worker who later became a railwayman, and this took the family furth of the Shire and indeed furth of Scotland, when he took a job with East African Railways in Tanzania. She came back to Scotland to complete her education and went on to a career in secondary school teaching (that stage-presence was honed on tough audiences), but like many women of her generation, her own creative work had to wait for the demands of job and family to diminish – as she put it, “early retirement and a headlong dive into scribbling”. From her first pamphlet, Slow Road Home (Makar Press 2004) to her most recent collection Clyack (Red Squirrel 2021), taking in collaborations like the Writing the Asylum project (https://writingtheasylum.co.uk), and the two tri-lingual pamphlets she, AC Clarke, and Maggie Rabatski published with Tapsalteerie (Owersettin, 2016 and Drochaid, 2019), her work attracted justified praise: she appeared on many prize shortlists, and won the McCash Scots poetry prize so often that if it had been a trophy like the World Cup, she would have got to keep it. Her last-published book, Norlan Lichts, produced jointly with Sheena Blackhall and Lesley Benzie (Rymour Books), was for many – myself included – one of the poetry events of 2022. She was generous too with her time and advice, acting as a Scots/Doric consultant for Poetry Scotland magazine and commenting wisely and helpfully on the work of poets – again, like myself – writing less surely in Scots.

Sheila wrote in both Scots and English. Her poetry in both languages is lyrical, accessible, and filled with a clear-eyed understanding that responds to its subjects with unsentimental human sympathy. Her poem “Living Room” / “Leevin Room”, about the bombardment of Gaza in 2009, has been much on my mind this winter, and I remember how passionately she read it at Callander in 2013:

And so he dances, this father, this citizen of Gaza,
smiling at his girl, making funny faces, breathing
love into a space full of brokenness and fear,
reminding us exactly how war is waged among the weary.
the innocent, in broken houses, the once living rooms.

And for the Scotia Extremis project, when many of us were choosing famous monuments or spectacular scenery, she chose James Keir Hardie as her subject:

Nae for you the cauld analysis, the lang-nebbit theory o the dialectic
settin the warld tae richts. Aa yer gumption, yer scrievin, yer wirds
cam fae life, fae a day’s lang darg, fae the hard tyauve o yer hauns
burnt intae muscle memory

Though for most of her writing career she was living first in Ayrshire and then in Glasgow, her Scots poetry kept faith with her Doric roots. And although she explored those roots in poems like “Cottar Wife” or “The Clyack Shafe”, or the English “Priming the Pump”, she was not one to let her mother-tongue fade into nostalgia, using it as she used English for any and all subjects, from a sunbather on Glasgow Green, to the paintings of Whistler, to the mysterious celestial object Oumuamua. She had, too, a wicked and subversive sense of humour that glints out in poems like “Dumfoonert”, where a group of adolescents enter a fairground booth and encounter Estelle the Tassel Swinger (“Whit wye is she able tae dee that?”), or her appreciation of Captain Picard from Star Trek. The two poems from her that we were lucky enough to publish in Pushing Out the Boat 15 (and which later appeared in Clyack) capture these different aspects of her work: “The Iceberg That Sunk the Titanic“, a sly telling of a grandfather’s possibly-tall tale; and “Unn the Deep Thochted”, an exploration of the character of a woman in the Laxdaela Saga who takes her family to Iceland to escape the feuds and wars that have cut them down:

Naebody iver sang aboot my byowty. Naebody
iver spak o my bonnie face. My ain faither
niver caad me his bonnie quine. But he gied me
a byordnar gift at my kirsenin – Unn the Deep Thochted
he kythed me. And that’s been mair eese than byowty,
that’s been shinin siller in the kist o ma life.

We were delighted, too, when she agreed to write the introduction to issue 16, and we are heart-sore to think that we, and the world, will have no more poetry from her: heart-sore too for her family and their loss, all the more cruel given her delight at becoming a granny just a few years ago. I couldn’t make it to Glasgow for her funeral, but I was glad to hear that those who could carried out her wishes in the poem “Living Will”, belting out the hymns she loved as a worthy sendoff:

Don’t even think of sitting quietly.
I want you on your feet. I want to go hearing you singing.
Make a big noise.

Across the Silent Sea: A Novel by Gabrielle Barnby

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

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

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.

Recordings of all eight of Loraine’s WordsUp interviews with POTB authors are available here on the POTB Blog.

 

POTB at Books and Beans June 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

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

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]

[Musical interlude: Six from the musical of the same name]
 

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

[Programme ends with The Lark Ascending by Vaughan Williams]
 

Other programmes in the series

Photos from the launch of Issue 17

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.