Josephine Jay - writing scholarship winner 2023

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 tutor, led us along contours of language and plot – we wrote stories upon stories about the world around us and ate cheese late into the night.

We had a concert. Malin, whose parents had lived on the island and was very nearly born on it themselves brought crooning sounds to life from several instruments in short succession. Beads of resin bled into overhead beams while the murmurings of a crowd rearranging their legs flickered across the hall, the chalk achievements of an island scrawled across a blackboard at the back of the room. To the microphone, the musician said, this first part is a song from across a sea – I learnt it on my travels and now I bring it back here for you. These pipes are an invention – the next song is an announcement; she means trans joy and visibility and I have bound these new ideas to notes for you to hear.

I found four ticks on the dog that week, small black specks creeping across his forehead and tossed into the fire with a vengeance. I wrote by the window looking out across the bay, fed coals to the fire and walked the dog back home by torchlight each evening.

On the last day, we hiked to the bothy. Just a small walk around the island, turned into a three hour hike in the pouring rain. Our boots filled with water, tempers soured, we saw a seal flopping about in the shallows. In the bothy we guzzled wine by the fire, wrung out our clothes and washed down cheese and chutney sandwiches. Later, we interrupted a stag and two hinds on the path home as we ran to catch the boat back. I loved my week on the island, I met an eclectic group of people now flung in very different directions but brought together for the seven days by a shared love of the written word. Looking back at that week, the memories still burn brightly.