Josephine Jay - writing scholarship winner 2023

We arrived in a storm. The dog, squealing was tossed in the back of the boat where he sulked in the rain; little shoulders hunched, ears back for the crossing. The shapes of Castle Tioram were pointed out from the boat, our bags unloaded. Ten minutes later we stood gently dripping in the front room of the house. Outside, wet heady smells lifted from the bracken, a bird cried out in the woods. The trees rustled their branches and down by the pier, the motor boats creaked and strained at the end of their ropes. The hills of the island rose up with the sky, like backs of a sleeping tomcat. Cottages dotted around the beachfront crouched in the skirts of the trees and inside, the dogs snuffled scents from the floor. I turned twenty-seven on the island. That day, the dog and I got up early and went for a run where I jumped into the lake and thought about my best friend, Hester. That week, the shouts of rutting stags echoed across the bay, rain hammered down the bracken intermittently and the forms of several sleeping dogs lay dotted around the room as we began classes. John, our
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Josephine Jay - writing scholarship winner 2023
poem by John Clifford

Slàinte Mhaith

I ask, a toast for written words
So find the finest spirit
You have near
Regard its stillness
Like the millpond cove
That greets the tired fishers
Dredging up their lines
And lobster pots
To see what literary critters
Creep and crawl within These stories are a hearty dinner
Season life with vibrancy
To make us rich in living
Slàinte mhaith! Drink a dram
Now for the stories
Which breathe complex life
Into the women history ignores
They are sandbags set against the flood
Of patriarchy pouring round us
Now and from our past
So raise a glass And drink a dram again
For stories which tell us of when
Through abuse and shattered lives
The love of friends remains
A steel thread
Shining in the city grime
(And on a personal note
I hope Róisín does burn
That fuckers house down)
Raise a glass! And drink a dram again
For stories which grant us some sight
Of personal liberation
They must be heard to be believed
And in their telling
Forge the author into diamond,
Shining inspiration
Herself a higher being
So raise a glass And drink a dram
For shell-shocked elevator operators
I hope she had a good union
To shield her
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Slàinte Mhaith
Joseph Hughes

Writing workshop (stream of consciousness exercise)

Great idea fantastic wonderful lovely a real life discussion about a real live project - maybe I’ll get my name in the acknowledgements - and yes Vanessa quite right we are a collection of great minds and I am a part of that and right here we go best foot forward concentrate concentrate sit up straight concentrate cock head to one side intelligently and oh my God she’s so eloquent and so articulate in her second language and I bet it’s not even her second language it’s her third/fourth/fifth - these bloody multilingual Europeans - right start again listen listen concentrate oh she’s introducing her last project this is the one she told me about in the boot room about the horses and the love and oh I can tell by everyone’s reaction that she’s not spoken to everyone about it yet well. done. me. Look at everyone oohing and ahhing and clapping and cooing wouldn’t that be great I wish I had an editor does the fire need more coals? Right here we go this is the main event concentrate now a number of questions coming my way 1 oh she doesn’t look fifty “fading fertility flowering feminism female
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Writing workshop (stream of consciousness exercise)

Art Residency

Dear friends, I am back from my residency on the small island Eilean Shona off the West Coast of Scotland where I spent the whole month of March. It is a breath-taking place, with so many different landscapes packed close together. It was dark when I left Euston Station on Feb 28th on the Caledonian Sleeper. I woke up early to see the beautiful sunrise over the Scottish landscape whizzing by.  My little cabin was very snug, particularly as it was crowded by my very heavy luggage: a large suitcase full of tools and some clothes, a big rucksack with more tools and more warm clothes and a duffle bag with sundries, plus a big roll of paper. I was greeted at Fort William by Ewen who drives almost everyone to and from the Island. We drove for about an hour through an incredible landscape, all the way to the dock where I was met by Alistair and Boe.  My luggage, plus my Morrison’s food order were put onto a small boat and we crossed the Loch to Eilean Shona where I was shown around and introduced to my lovely new home…. Timber Cottage. I moved into Red Cottage
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Art Residency

The Burning Baby

Paul Kindersley’s third film, The Burning Baby, is a psychological horror fairy tale, filmed on location on Eilean Shona in 2020 where the cast and crew lived and worked together for the duration of the shoot to create a commune-like experience which lends a unique atmosphere to the film. The film is a surreal queer fantasy that investigates our relationship to landscape, identity, family, sexuality and death
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The Burning Baby
Georganne Harmon

Near Sunset

the mountain spine of this Scottish isle
grows pink
and those of us who
speak of darkness even as we
confirm the light
are lifted by its present face -
no rain, no mist, the sea calm
around us, the sinking sun
still warming the wisps of breeze.
Clothes dry on the line.
A fire chortles in the grate.
The kitchen music rises to a peak
and calls us to break these meanderings
between the intuitions of magic
and the practicality of warm and cold,
comfort and stir.
We rise as one, to go,
to tie on our aprons,
to cook our meal, together.
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Near Sunset
Lee Mackenzie (2022 Writing Scholarship Winner)


I have stood in two woods where I have lost my sense of up and down, left and right, forwards and back. The first, Moseley Bog, is a fifteen-minute walk from my home, and one of the most frenetic woodlands around. A place where ivy and blackthorn vie for any frond of light, where calamitous trees fall, bridging muddy streams, then lie deathly for weeks before exploding in new growth. It is home to quick-eyed crows, to fingernail shrimp that sprint silently beneath the waterline. An ever-fracturing, ever-changing, morphous world that consumes its visitors, spins them around, then spits them out onto the B-roads. The second is the opposite; that wood is the pine woodland on the hillside of the tidal island, Eilean Shona. On the day after arriving on the island - a night’s sleep in a good bed righting the wrongs of the sleeper train - I headed out to see the trees. Sensing that I would be met with something special there, I decided to save them for later - like the last sausage. Instead, I followed a waterfall up the hill, skirting the bulk of pine trees that surrounded the main house, and headed for the highest peak on
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Paul Salinger


To the trees and ferns
Even the low moss
And the little shoots
I can run my fingers up
Like a small string
From an ancient instrument Silent music
Sweet and tender
Like the mossy knoll 
And wispy ferns Overhead
The rustling gale
And the sun
Slipping through dancing branches
To warmly light your face Bathing in the forest
Is not pure silence
It is as noisy as life
It is life giving Put as much of your body
As you can on the earth
Lay your head
On the pillowy moss
Soft on top of the hard rock Cradling your body
Feel the curves and bumps
Of the ground below
See through the forest canopy above
To the endless colorless sky Just below
The shimmering loch
Dances and sings Close your eyes
Close your eyes
The earth is there for you
One way or another Disrobe
Feel the ground below
Let the mossy tendrils
Wind into every opening 
Every pore
Connect to the roots below
And sing your song
To the forest bathing
Your open and ready body
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Paul Salinger


In some billions of years
Our sun will burn itself out
They think Before that it will boil the oceans
And set the world on fire
No humans anymore
No life at all Still, life now
The universe right there
In the spirals of your fingertips Life now
The constant buzz of the bee
The quiet lapping of water at the shore
The small flowers
Rooting in the sandy soil
The puffy clouds of white
In a blue blue sky Across a threshold
Through a gateway
Moments of magic No illusions
No sleight of hand
No hidden tricks Nature does everything
It’s agency is there
In the veins and arteries of your body
That great water system
Nourishing our hopes and dreams The hope of knowing
What is mine to do
And what is not mine to do And the dream of living it
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Paul Salinger

How to start

how to start
             each day with the world on fire
             to undo the damage
             start anew sit, quietly
feet planted firmly
spine reaching upward breathe watch the thoughts come and go
become friends with your self again breathe or, plunge into the cold, cold sea
             shout loudly
             shout to put the fire out
             shout the rage the outrage
             shock the lungs alive breathe, or not
             lose all thought
             but the pain and the ecstasy of the cold the sea, soft as silk what do you feel curious traveler
what will you do
             to undo the damage in the world
             to undo the damage
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How to start
Matthew Wilson

Sea Eagle Breeding & Management History

The early years of monitoring throughout the 1980s was mainly under contract to RSPB when my 'beat' was from the North coast of Knoydart to the Sound of Mull and into the Great Glen. In those days there were far fewer sea eagles and the release programme was still underway. The male is wing tagged White 'L' who was hatched on Mull in 2007. Most of the wing tag has now broken off but in certain lights you can see one small remainder of the tag folded over on the left underwing. The tag on the other wing came off completely some years ago. The current female is untagged and has no leg rings, as was her predecessor. The females changed in 2017. As the original female was 'unmarked' it is impossible to say what happened to the original female. The original birds paired up in 2010 and I thought that they fledged their first chick that year. This was not confirmed as the tree wasn't climbed but the prey remains and activity at the nest suggested that there was a high likelihood that this new pair bred successfully. The original pair reared a further two single chicks up until 2017
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Sea Eagle Breeding & Management History
Karishma Jobanputra (2021 Writing Scholarship Winner)

What Joy Is

When I arrive, I think the water is wine. It is tinted a very pale brown, but looks brilliantly gold because of the light shining through the large windows. The water goes through the peat, Vanessa tells me, pouring me some. By the end of the week I will find it strange to drink or bathe in water that isn’t ochre. Clear water will suddenly seem unnatural, an unfortunately wan iteration of something that could be golden. The mornings are punctuated by the sounds of doing: Vanessa’s Duolingo notifications, bathroom doors opening and closing, five eager dogs scampering about. We join in the doing, shake off yawns like errant mosquitos, and hike the island. There is the wet snap of twigs, tree trunks carpeted in plush green moss, the rush of waterfalls. I realise I have not actually heard the squelch of mud before, my foot has not sunk through ground so saturated with water that the very sound of it is comical, the warmth of it hugging my shoes, almost up to my ankle. We come across scat that looks like pomegranate seeds and I wonder where I am, this magical place that seems so unreal, then remember J.M.
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What Joy Is

Far North podcast episode 5, season 2

There seem to be a lot of private islands in Scotland. Why is that? Pete and Matt dig into the questions of land ownership, the responsibility of island ownership, and the kind of people who take it on. They then get the chance to talk to Vanessa Branson about her experience of buying and owning Eilean Shona, which she is now running as a luxury tourist retreat. We drew heavily on this great article by Patrick Barkham in the Guardian in researching some of the recent history of private and community island ownership.
Listen to the podcast below
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Far North podcast episode 5, season 2
Nick Allen

On Rocks

on rocks the ottery whiskered
unknowable kelp schlepps
a flat wet jungle
below the castle the water runs blue
pulled by tides pushed by rivers
it cloaks the seeping mudflats
and sandbanks that lurk intent
on their own schemes of treachery
a seabird skims and dips wings
the wind teases and the loch bucks
as a shoal of flashing mackerel boil
and agitate at the thin film keeping
them safe from the suffocating air above a breeze jewels the loch thin lines score
the water with daily traceries the moon
pulls again dragging water ever lower
liquid gums over rock teeth creatures
gather to pick at these fluid margins
afternoon sky bounces off the water
wind drags around the small headland
and somewhere a boat churns the silence
with a gnattish buzzing impossible to deny
a shag and its shadow collide on the flat loch skin
and the otter noses the air
before diving again feral
sleek as a lie Nick Allen © 2020
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On Rocks
Anna Watson (2020 Writing Retreat Scholarship Winner)

Walk Across the Sea

The view from the dining room is a lesson in painting perspective. In the foreground, the damp grass and incomplete hedgerow are a brilliant lime flecked with lemon yellow. The towering trees that spread down the hill to the shoreline (whose names I must collect in a list) are a deep, appropriately forest green; a combination of pine needles, moss grey leaves and mint lichen set against the bold brushstrokes of their trunks. The water is grey; a white grey not dissimilar to the sky above. Both are calm today. The trees atop the island in the middle distance are less defined. Their greens, much like their branches, weave together to form a soft brown. Behind them lies the mainland. Were you to take all the colours of the foreground and the mid-ground and combine them on a palette board, you’d surely recreate the marbling of those hills. I know that the purple of the heather, the white of the rocks, the brown of grasses past and the electric green of new growth are all present. For now they merge in a backdrop perfectly coordinated to the scene. I understand why my grandfather liked to write in green ink. A Mediterranean
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Walk Across the Sea
Rachel Field

If Once You Have Slept On An Island

If once you have slept on an island
You'll never be quite the same;
You may look as you looked the day before
And go by the same old name,
You may bustle about in street and shop
You may sit at home and sew,
But you'll see blue water and wheeling gulls
Wherever your feet may go.
You may chat with the neighbors of this and that
And close to your fire keep,
But you'll hear ship whistle and lighthouse bell
And tides beat through your sleep.
Oh! you won't know why and you can't say how
Such a change upon you came,
But once you have slept on an island,
You'll never be quite the same.
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If Once You Have Slept On An Island
Pete Barfoot at The Old School House

Time Slips

One mind finding hidden paths
Three chase form in story-craft
Two hands joining yours to mine
Four fall in step and make the climb
Five echoes catch in windborne laugh
Seven faces smile on life re-draft
Six faint ticks to keep in rhyme
Eight hemispheric re-designs
Nine score lines around the hearth
Eleven repetitions turn the earth
Ten, losing power, recedes in time
Twelve competing heavens align.
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Time Slips
Pete Barfoot at The Old School House

Step (walking barefooted across Eilean Shona)

the earth works
its way through
another day Within:
the world thinks
another way toe from toe
to tell, to know
each slip and grip
and furl and curl without clever cover I feel every
folded leaf and stem
sink in earth’s laboratory
stride on cracking history
skip round spike-thorn botany
scale mini-mountain geology step out, step on
to fall
in step
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Step (walking barefooted across Eilean Shona)
Pete Barfoot at The Old School House


if you can stop still
in time enough silence seeps
a shadow creep of thought-caught memory sounds you never heard
of child and wind and burn and bird so history is made a slow cascade from crack-rock slip to peat-rot drip of echoes waves in sea and air the never-ending here and there
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Peter Cowdrey

Birds on Eilean Shona in Winter

I'm cosily installed by the fire in a cottage on Eilean Shona off Ardnamurchan, a 2000 acre island where I am on a winter retreat. I look out over the waters of the South Channel of Loch Moidart towards the imposing 14th century ruin of Castle Tioram. This panorama is the backdrop for a steady stream of avian comings and goings; through binoculars I sometimes see a flock of rock doves, wild cousins of the feral pigeons found in cities, wheeling around the ramparts of the castle; on the water are small parties of red breasted-mergansers, raffish males leading dowdy females, sometimes a solitary goldeneye, once a male eider; occasionally a peregrine dashes across, hoping to surprise a dove or a duck. Jet-black shags dive, then fly off to dry their wings on the rocks. One afternoon a handsome great northern diver worked its way along the channel, spending almost as much time under water as on it. In the evenings the imposing form of the resident juvenile sea eagle (they are sometimes known as flying barn doors) wings its way across on its way to roost. The constantly changing wave patterns occasionally break to reveal the rounded head of
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Birds on Eilean Shona in Winter
Stephen Navin

The Dinner Party

On the last night of the creative writing course, the Moydart Maidens* organised a very special dinner. I am not sure how they managed it but the guest list was quite extraordinary and even now I cannot believe it but dear readers I was there and you will have to trust me. The food was excellent albeit we were constricted by the continuing power cut. In the flickering candlelight the faces of the guests often made them look like ghosts, fading in and out of the light. The guests were ferried across the sound in two parties arriving before dusk. I was intrigued to see that the more ancient or older guests travelled together. In the case of Julius Caesar and the playwright Aeschylus I am not surprised they wanted to get the journey over as quickly as possible as they were so ill clad for the Scottish Highlands in Winter. Caesar had a toga top on top of his military skirt, actually quite similar to a Scottish kilt. Aeschylus, having just come from the first night of his latest play, Agamemnon in Halicarnassus, was dressed in the traditional loose cloth gown of the patrician Greek. Their companions were, believe
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The Dinner Party
Florence Devereux

Voices of Shona

In the summer of 2016, the stars aligned and I was lucky enough to stay on Eilean Shona for two and a half months. As anyone who has visited Shona could imagine, my time during holidays and study periods that I had spent on the island while growing up, seeped into my soul and the magical ‘look out’ isle stole my heart. Spending time on Shona as the daughter of the temporary guardians in the long line of eccentrics that have taken helm of the island, has been the greatest joy of my life. My love of nature lead me to write my masters thesis on environmental philosophy and I developed a strong sense that the island could help humanity during this period of alienation and reconnect with the earth. Her gentle wilderness seemed to speak through me and say, ‘I can help here'. With this sense reverberating through me, I headed to Schumacher College, a center of ecological studies in Devon to learn with indigenous teachers from around the world. I felt the responsibility of being a guardian of wilderness and wanted to learn from cultures that lived symbiotically with Nature for countless generations. During my time at the college,
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Voices of Shona
Nick Hunt


In this era of climate change, we tend to think of the wind solely as resource – just one type of renewable energy that must be harnessed if we are to succeed in transforming our fossil fuel dependent economies into something a little more benign. As with every pragmatic, and technocentric approach to addressing the climate crisis, the natural processes of this planet have little to offer modern humans beyond their utilitarian value. The wind, the source of myths and legends, the muse for countless artists, poets, musicians, and writers is nothing more than a source of energy to be used to power an economic system that must grow, even if nature dies. It is the notion of ‘harnessing’ or ‘capturing’ the energy of the wind that speaks volumes about the way we view the nonhuman world in this age of transcending natural limits. The wind has no independent value or existence outside what we, the human race, determine for it. It is there for us to exploit for our own selfish ends. We are modern humans and, as such, we no longer worship the wind or its gods. Aeolus, Amun, Boreas, Notus, Njord, Bieggolmai, Vayu all died long ago when
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Ros Anderson

Hermit’s holiday part 2 – the visitor’s book

When I was young, on holiday in a French gite with my family, I remember asking my Dad if he and Mum would be writing in the visitor’s book. I must have been able to write at this time, but unauthorised writing in the visitor’s book by me was obviously unthinkable. ‘No,’ my Dad said. ‘It’s rather pretentious.’ Despite the fact that I’ve grown up to LOVE pretension, and have even been known to disagree with my Dad from time to time, this verdict on the visitor’s book has stuck. They are a guilty pleasure, a little like those round-robin Christmas letters – I relish the peep into other guests’ Pooterish prose, their documenting of every meal, every disappointment of the holiday, and marvel especially at the people moved to a spot of holiday poetry. But I wouldn’t dream of writing in one myself. Sadly I only noticed the visitors’ books for Shore Cottage on the second to last day. 4 hard-backed A4 books on the shelf, each dated with the year. I picked one up expecting to get 10 minutes cheap enjoyment out of sneering, to be honest. But though there was a bit of that (and
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Hermit’s holiday part 2 – the visitor’s book