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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.

The Launch of Issue 17

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 …

Copies of Issue 17 are available from our online shop and from our vendors.

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

Team members

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

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]

[Musical interlude: New York, New York from On the Town]

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 ends with The Lark Ascending by Vaughan Williams]
Recordings of the final programme coming shortly – see Words Up Schedule for dates and details.