Mixed Media

The holiday is over, we’ve returned from possibly the most poetic place in the world to, possibly, the least. OK, not the least, but this town with its sheep chewed hills and Tory ethos is a Disney movie in comparison, a faded shortbread tin full of broken toys, a plastic sequinned party dress made in a sweatshop in Beijing.

And that’s about as much as I can say about the trip just now, it will likely take me ten years to write it up with the authenticity it deserves. If you can’t wait that long read The Poems of Norman MacCaig, which will give you an emotional sense of the place. Couple it with a little bit of James Hutton, and you’ll be almost there.

Meanwhile, I stumbled on this last night, and as, a) the contents of my head need a couple of hours in a hot oven before I can write sense and, b) I’m ineffably fond of Charlie Kaufman, I thought I’d share.  Here’s a quote which feels especially important:

“When you’re doing a movie, writing a screenplay, you have to know why it’s a movie, and if it doesn’t have to be a movie you shouldn’t do it. It’s very important that what you do is specific to the medium in which you’re doing it, and that you utilise what’s specific about that medium. And if you can’t think about why it needs to be done this way, then it doesn’t need to be done this way.”

As someone who struggles with the ‘what* am I?’ thing I find this incredibly levelling. Anyway, get yourself a drink and a tray of favourite snacks, and sit back for 40 minutes, you deserve it:

*fiction writer; poet; photo-artist/woman with a camera…?


Reason Sits Helpless at its Desk

What with world (‘crazier and more of it than we think’*) goings on at the moment I’m incredibly relieved to be off Ullapool for a week (from Friday) with The Mr. I hope to  explore Assynt, the favourite place of one of my favourite poets, Norman MacCaig, and as luck would have it a new colleague lent me At the Loch of the Green Corrie a few weeks ago so I know better than ever what to look out for. I’m particularly excited to visit the most remote bookshop on mainland Britain, and the geological phenomena of the Moine Thrust and Knockan Crag.

Knockan Crag
Knockan Crag

But just being with the sea and mountains, midges or none, rain or sun, will be balm. I will take a notebook and camera, as always, so I’ll hopefully be able to write something of the trip when I return. I am hopeless at review type writing, though, so don’t hold your breath for anything factual. Meanwhile here is one of MacCaig’s late poems, which rather nails my current feelings of perturbed ambivalence:

The Red and the Black

We sat up late, talking –
thinking of the screams of the tortured
and the lost silence of starving children,
seeing the faces of bigots and murderers.

Then sleep.

And there was the morning, smiling
in the dance of everything. The collared doves
guzzled the rowan berries and the sea
washed in, so gently, so tenderly.
Our neighbours greeted us
with humour and friendliness.

World why do you do this to us,
giving us poison with one hand
and the bread of life with another?

And reason sits helpless at its desk,
adding accounts that never balance,
finding no excuse for anything.

Cover image from Adventures Around Scotland

*From Louis MacNeice’s ‘Snow’

Literature Ambassador: Wigtown Happenings

From my inbox:

While the team at Wigtown Festival Company are busy working away on this year’s Book Festival, here are some other events happening in and around Wigtown in the coming weeks.


Four Ball Golf at Turnberry

We are offering you the chance to win a round of golf at the world famous Ailsa Course worth £1300. Entries cost £20. Proceeds go towards the Wigtown Book Festival. Visit our website for more information. Closing date 16 June.

Mystery Weekend

23-25 June | Craft Hotel | Tickets £7

Dive into crime writing with a series of events celebrating mystery and suspense. Featuring writers such as Matt Hilton, Mike Craven and Mari Hannah. Tickets available here.

National Theatre of Scotland

The NTS Artistic Development team is coming to Wigtown! They will deliver a range of workshops and writing surgeries to help develop your writing into a winning script. Join us at Number 11 North Main Street on the 28 June.


Ian Crichton Smith Reading

16 June | 11 am | Beltie Books | Free

Come along and share your favourite passages from this prolific Scottish writer, learn more of the author’s life or simply sit back and listen to his timeless work.



Land and Sea Exhibition

Running from 16 June until September, the Land and Sea exhibition at Cragiard Gallery promises breathtaking art by Allan. J Robertson, Hazel Campbell and Heather Davies to name a few.

WFC logo

Wigtown Book Festival Programme 22 September – 1 October

We’re currently busy putting together the programme for this year’s Wigtown Book Festival. We aim to distribute it in the first week of August, so save the dates and keep you eyes peeled!

Literature Ambassador: Mysteriously Yours

Crime writing seems to be big business these days, not just when it comes to selling books, but when it comes to writing them too. There are conventions, events, and crime writing workshops popping up all over, and two out of three debut book launches I hear about are in that genre. There’s even a group for writers with criminal intent in the tiny town I live in. I can’t work out why it’s so popular, but I’m happy to support any type of writing as long as it’s well wrought. So…

Photo credit: http://capitalcrimewriters.com/tag/crime-fiction/

If you are interested in honing your skills as a writer of thrillers the Mystery Weekend in Wigtown, south west Scotland is for you.  It runs from 23rd to 25th June and features five leading thriller/crime/mystery writers: Matt Hilton, Mari Hannah, Mike Craven, Peter Bartram and Jackie Baldwin. There are talks aimed at writers:  How to write a mystery with Jackie, Writers Inspiration with Mari and Road to Publication with Mike. Tickets for most talks are £7 but there is also a Saturday ticket and one for the whole weekend (though these don’t include the meet the author breakfast, dinner or cocktail party that are part of the programme).

Tickets are available from www.ticketsource.co.uk/date/371938

*featured image: Bruce Rolff, Shutterstock.

On Writing

It’s easy to forget the power of fully considered writing by someone who is serious about communicating, and then you bump into John Berger on You Tube. This ends rather abruptly, but before it does it will make you weep for the sheer joy of what putting one word in front of another can accomplish. How does he do it?


Literature Ambassador: Mentoring Opportunity for Writers

Wigtown Festival Company

Mentoring Programme 2017

Mentoring opportunities for writers in Dumfries & Galloway
Are you a writer living in Dumfries & Galloway looking to develop your work with the help of professional advice and support? Applications are invited for a the next round of the mentoring scheme, run by Wigtown Festival Company, to take place in autumn of 2017.
Applicants will be expected to be able to demonstrate commitment to writing and examples of work, published or unpublished, on which they can work with their mentor. (For example, three to four chapters of a novel, or several short stories/poems; or a strong synopsis, character outlines and first chapter). Mentoring will be provided by professional writers, selected according to the needs of the person mentored.

Applications from people of all ages will be considered and it is intended to select at least
one young person (14-26) as part of the scheme. Reasonable travel expenses will be paid.
To apply, please send the following details to harveywigtown@gmail.com

•1000-word sample of your writing (or equivalent for poets).

•500-word statement, specifying why you would benefit from free mentoring and detailing experience to date.

•Full contact details and any other supporting, relevant information

Closing date 5pm 30 June 2017.

Supported by Creative Scotland

Literature Ambassador: Shoreline Voices

Oh how I love it when someone sends me a press release, it makes life so much easier. And this is exactly the kind of thing I’d go to if I had the cash.


Saturday 3rd June, 2.30 pm. Theatre Royal Studio, 66-68 Shakespeare Street, Dumfries.


Standing on a clear day on any prominent hill or headland in Dumfries and Galloway you can see easily, to the south, the Cumbrian Lake District and the Isle of Man. Westwards, you can see Ireland. Travel, commerce and exchange between these lands has been traditional to the existence of our region for thousands of years. It has often been easier to sail from one shore to the other across the sea, than to labour along hilly terrains between valleys and distant towns in the same land. In its way, the Northern Irish Sea can be seen as an ‘island’ of water bounded by its shorelands and hills. It never formed a country of its own, but it has structured what it is to live in this part of the world.

Modern transport and convenience are now encouraging us to imagine our landscapes differently, but not necessarily true to the longer span of time. InSight seeks to explore, encourage and enjoy those traditional links across the northern Irish Sea. We want to find ways to foster new connections and collaborations between our four shorelines.

On the Shore

In this first event, four of the finest living poets from these areas perform their work and discuss it with cultural commentators representing the shorelines – and with the audience – revealing new insights and perspectives.

The four poets are:

Stacy Astill (Isle of Man): As the first living Manx Bard, in 2015 Stacey did a huge amount to promote poetry during her year as Bard, both at home and abroad. She took part in a cultural exchange with the US, where she worked with people in prisons and correctional facilities; she held special poetry events and workshops around the island, appeared on the radio; and gave talks in schools and at events such as TEDx Douglas. One of Stacey’s poems features on the main window of the Henry Bloom Noble library in Douglas, which she officially opened in her role as Bard, and where she has hosted two evenings of poetry and prose to mark International Women’s Day, in 2016 and 2017.

Paul Yates (Northern Ireland): Born in Belfast, but with family connections to the Mourne coast near Annalong and Kilkeel, he is a poet, painter and film-maker. Paul has had eight books published, including ‘Mourne’ (2005), and his work has been translated into French, Danish and Russian. His documentary and poetic film productions (including ‘XII Months of Mourne’) have won wide acclaim and his paintings and video art feature in various private and corporate collections. Some of his poetry film will be shown in ‘Shoreline Voices’.

 Liz Niven (Dumfries and Galloway): is a widely published Scottish poet writing in Scots and English. Her last collection, The Shard Box, was a Scottish Libraries Summer Read. Awards include McCash/Herald for poetry and TESS/Saltire for her ground-breaking work for the Scots language in education. Residencies range from Poet-in-residence at Inverness Airport to commissioned poetry engraved in wood and stone in southwest Scotland. She is an honorary Fellow of the Association of Scottish Literature and on the Executive Board of Scottish PEN. ‘The stance that Liz Niven takes, that the Scots are internationalists, travelling, commentating and contributing, makes this collection unique and important, particularly as the poet frequently uses the Scots language to address other cultures and by doing so reclaims our mother tongue as literary, contemporary and internationally valid.’ (Janet Paisley)

 Peter Rafferty (Cumbria): is a poet, translator, and sometime geomorphologist, who was born and lives in Carlisle. With one collection, Eoliths, published by Arrowhead, and anthology appearances that include The Cockermouth Poets and The Faber Book of 20th Century Italian Poems, he is currently working on absolutely the last revision of his Laforgue selection.

 Also taking part are:

Ruth Taillon (Northern Ireland): is Director of the Centre for Cross Border Studies based in Armagh, Northern Ireland and Dublin, Ireland. The Centre has a unique role in promoting and improving the quality of cross-border cooperation – on the island of Ireland and beyond – through research and provision of resources, tools and other practical support. Ruth has many years’ experience working with a range of public and civil society organisations in both jurisdictions as a researcher and evaluator specialising in gender, equality, and peace and conflict issues. She is currently a member of the Irish Government’s Oversight Group for the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security. Ruth also occasionally writes and lectures on Irish women’s history, about which she has a strong personal interest.

 Dr Brian Irving (Cumbria) : thinks of himself as a ‘Solwayman’, someone who has experienced the area both as an onlooker and champion and as a participant in some of the many and varied pursuits the area has to offer. He was born in Carlisle and has lived in the area all of his life. He has managed the Solway Coast ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ for over 20 years and in that time has written and delivered four statutory management plans to provide protection, restoration and conservation to the designated 118 sq. km on the English side. Brian is passionate about the relationship between England and Scotland – for him there is no distinction both geographically and culturally. He says – “It is only land ownership, wealth and politics that inevitably influence where the Solway rests. Take those ‘higher’ influences away and a palpable cohesion exists”.

 Dr Valentina Bold (Dumfries and Galloway): teaches Scottish literature at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Strathclyde and is a member and of the University of Exeter’s Atlantic Archipelagos Network. She recently co-curated ‘Swords in the Stories’​ for 2017 Year of Heritage, History & Archaeology with Dumfries Museum and is working on another exhibition
on the History of Scottish Children’s Writing with the Museum of Childhood, Edinburgh in 2018. Current research includes a study of the modern revival of pilgrimage journeys in Scotland, and an edition of James Hogg’s Brownie of Bodsbeck & other Tales to be published by Edinburgh University Press in 2018.

Julian Watson (Dumfries and Galloway): Originally from the north of England, he has worked in museums, arts centre management and exhibition organisation in Ireland (both sides of the Border) and Scotland. A practicing artist, Julian has an interest in community mapping and borderlands. With Valentina Bold, he is organiser of the InSight project’s first steps.

This event is intended to be the first of a series of multidisciplinary events organised through InSight, which, over the coming years, will celebrate the conversations which the Shorelines can have with each other.

SHORELINE VOICES | Dumfries & Galloway Arts Festival


Non Titolo

It’s as hot as a Gaucho’s armpit at the moment. Which is rare in Scotland, so when it happens I want to immerse myself in it. Hence my silence. I’ve been out playing in the elements with the old camera my brother gave me at the start of April. A Nikon D70s, it’s not the kind of camera someone who calls themself a photographer would deign to pick up, but I don’t deign. I think of myself as more of an explorer than anything, and am delighted to be in a position to explore through the lens of this newly acquired toy; especially as I have more chance of being consumed by ants than of possessing the kind of camera the average semi-pro would deem worthy of his touch.

Here are some initial findings:

These Small Explosions
Lichen on a tree at Kelburn Castle.
Reciprocal Arrangement
A rather magnificent (cherry?) tree, also at Kelburn Castle.
Pod in the Dark
A sculpture at, yes, the castle at Kelburn.
Continuous Growth
The door to the polytunnel that’s birthing my tomatoes.
Moffat, Scotland, from Gallow Hill
The town in which I live.


Slug Time

After I’ve met a deadline I always have the feeling of floating on a raft that’s broken free of its tether. Free, light, and utterly out of control. Even writing this I don’t know what my next sentence will be; my head is empty. I try and make myself work, but am distracted by the slightest thing. I feel hungry and full up at the same time. I don’t know what I want to do, what I should do.

Still Life Photography by Eryl Shields

I’m like a street in which nobody lives, a party to which all the guests have failed to arrive, a field that has been so intensively farmed not even weeds can grow there. I need the cognitive equivalent of red clover to replenish the nitrogen, or a barrow load of manure.

Part of me wants to embrace this stage: go to bed and read; wander aimlessly round a gallery full of Picassos; sit on a sun warmed rock and watch the storm come in, but I have responsibilities. And so I am filling, like a drain in a monsoon, with a sense of resigned panic.

I don’t even know why I’m telling you this, there’s nothing you can do so it’s not a cry for help. I’m not suicidal. I just wish this feeling would go away so I can get on with being myself. So what is it? Am I tired, or just lazy? Or, is this the dreaded creative block that, I’ve heard, can last for years?

I’m pretty sure I’m not lazy, long periods of working 16 hour days have satisfied me of that, regardless of the efforts of the school I attended, and my ex husband to convince me otherwise. Actually, I don’t believe in laziness. It’s just a word we use to undermine people who work differently to the accepted norm. It is possible that I’m merely tired, and a wee break will sort me out. Though I’ve had almost a week of doing bugger all, and the deadline wasn’t that arduous. This leaves

Creative Block

What is that then? According to GoodTherapy.Org

A creative block might be experienced by anyone, for a number of reasons. Many writers, artists, and musicians reported periods of stalled creativity at some point in their careers, F. Scott Fitzgerald and cartoonist Charles Schultz among them.

I know, too, that the poet Louise Glück suffered a debilitating two year period of writers’ block before writing The Wild Iris, which won her a Pulitzer. She got over it by gardening so intensely she began to wonder what a poem written by a flower might be like. I don’t have two years, so back to Good Therapy:

It can be difficult to get past a creative block, but often simply becoming aware of when, how, and why a creative block develops can help a person work to address the creative block and prevent it from returning.

And here’s their list of possible causes (which one, if any, applies to me?):

The depletion of all creative energy after a fully immersed period of creating – possibly

  • Self-doubt, both pertaining to ability and talent – I have been susceptible to this, but I think I’ve overcome it.
  • Repeated rejection of one’s work – recently my work has been accepted by just about everyone I’ve submitted to, though that has made no difference to my material circumstances so there may be something in this.
  • Anxiety regarding the outcome of a project or task – unlikely.
  • The need for perfection – not something I suffer from any more.
  • The dependence on substances to be creative – no, though if I could afford substances who knows?
  • Onset of an illness or medical condition I suppose I’ll find out if this is so in due time.
  • A sudden loss of meaning and purpose in one’s work – possible.
  • Negative self-talk or criticism it’s not that I don’t look at other people’s work sometimes and think it beyond my capabilities, but I know I’m still learning, so don’t think this applies. That said, I do worry that I’m running out of time.

So, what now?

The allotment, I think, is calling. Should I immerse myself in that and forget art for a while? Maybe I’ll find an interesting way to photograph weeds, or come back one day and write a poem from the perspective of a community strawberry patch…

Meanwhile if there’s anyone out there with a solution I’d welcome your thoughts.


Creative Practice #2: Emerging Artist

It being virtually impossible to earn a living by making art, emerging artists rely on awards and bursaries from legacies, NGOs, and arts foundations. Ergo, I’m in the process of applying for an award from Jerwood Visual Arts (part of Jerwood Charitable Foundation) in conjunction with Eastside Projects and WORKPLACE, for a project I’ve been wanting to develop for a good six months.

The idea began to surface, like mayflies from a river, after I made this image:

Still Life Photography by Eryl Shields

which itself arose out of a completely different idea that turned out to be impossible to implement in my limited space. But, having brought the tin all the way from our kitchen I decided to try an alternative approach. I made half a dozen shots from different angles, and immediately liked this one best. After faffing about with tone curves in Lightroom (which always takes me days) I made a print, and as I was in the process of matting it I started thinking about all the biscuit tins lurking in cupboards around the country, waiting to dispense comfort and joy. I wondered about the diversity of them: what they look like; what they contain; how they came to be in the hands of their particular dispensees. Some inherited, some received as gifts, some bought, some found. There must be so many biscuit tin stories out there, all of which have the potential to tell us something about ourselves. To add, in fact, to the sum of human knowledge. Albeit in a small way.

I have a problem about the way we marginalise the domestic realm and privilege the commercial. As well as with our overly narrow definition of heroism: why is it heroic to save a life, but not heroic to create and nurture lives? Why is it heroic to fight and banish aliens but not bacteria? Thus, my initial idea was to make portraits of the nation’s biscuit tins in the heroic tradition, and at the start of the year I applied for a bursary to do just that. I was shortlisted but didn’t get it. Which has turned out to be a good thing, because the idea has morphed.

Now my plan is to hear the biscuit tin stories and allow them to suggest the style of the individual portraits: Modernist; Avant Garde; Allegorical; Cubist; Surrealist; Impressionist, there are myriad options of which Heroic is just one. It would, then, be bonkers to limit the possibilities at this stage with my own preoccupations.

Oh, and if you are an artist in the early stage of your career with a project you wish to develop, the deadline for this award is 5pm on May 8. You don’t have to have been to art school, it’s free to enter, and there’s no age limit; so what are you waiting for?

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