Anthology

When I was ten years old I was given the overwhelming task of compiling my very own poetry anthology for school. Immediately intimidated and admittedly out of my depth I turned to the one person I knew would be able to help; a woman of knowledge and guidance. My Granny Glen. A tiny woman full of words and never afraid to share them. Her hands, slightly tobacco stained, always turning the page of a book. My family always told me that my love of reading had come from my gran, that it had trickled its way down to me making us connected. She has always felt much more than a gran to me, she has been a friend, someone to admire and always someone who has understood me.

I told her of my impossible task and she calmly eased herself from her well worn chair and crossed the room towards her bookshelves. It occurs to me only now that I am not entirely sure if the walls in my gran’s house are covered with wallpaper or not because all I can picture are rows of rows of stacked books covering any glimpse of colour or pattern. Books squeezed together and on top of each other both horizontally and vertically in an image that now reflects my own shelves, like an antique mirror passed through generations. She carefully ran her fingers along the spines before extracting a small and timid book. The royal blue cover and neat printed capitals informed the reader that this unassuming book was in fact a Poetry Treasury. I have to admit that I was a little underwhelmed- how was a book this small supposed to help me with a task so large? I held the book delicately as if it were a small animal, careful not to scare it away but even in my small hands the book refused to grow. I clasped my fingers over the Treasury and headed outside to read.

Whenever I think of my gran it is impossible to not think of her house too. A small secluded cottage, each brick a part of my gran; the warmth of the fireplace in the living room that held the responsibility of heating the rest of the house, the smell of worn books well read, the old work top on the kitchen where I would climb on top, nose pressed on the glass desperately waiting to catch a glimpse of a rabbit or bird. My gran would let my cousins and I journey to the bottom of her road and play in the small burn there, running over the bridge excitedly, throwing sticks, stones and weeds into the water, dipping our toes and feeling the cold stream over us knowing that when we got back we could warm our feet by the fire whilst gran made us mugs of tea. Every second in that house felt like an adventure, like I had jumped into a page from one of my stories where I could fully be myself. People often assume that the Glen after Granny is her given name but rather she is named after where she lives; in a small wooded area called The Glen. Even her name is another brick in her cottage. My gran’s surroundings are an integral part of her, like overgrown ivy on a wall seeping in and filling cracks. They are always linked, a support for one another. Always reliant and forever associated, they are together even when they are not.

Next to my gran’s little cottage is a small forest that in my youth felt like a deep dark wood where fairy tale characters ran a mock as opposed to the reality of a smattering of trees and wild bushes. Although I was a loud and confident child, showcasing poetry and skits to anyone who would listen, I was always very aware that I wasn’t quite like my peers. I had friends with whom I climbed trees and made secret clubs, scrawling makeshift membership cards for the select chosen few, but my book loving nature made me an easy target for mocking. I found solitude in characters and far off worlds where I was safe and happy to be myself and these woods were my books come to life, adventure awaiting just round the corner of the next tree. Crunching through leaves and weaving through trees, I nonchalantly flicked through the pages- grazing on first lines before turning to the next. Then the page suddenly stopped and the first line moved to the second until I had devoured the whole poem. With my taste developing I read the poem again, this time aloud to my younger sister hoping that she too would acquire the taste. But the poem, so nutritious to me, was bland to the palette of a four year old. Nevertheless I had changed. This poem, this wonderful, exciting poem had turned a simple spring flower into every bouquet I had yet received in my life. Feelings of hope and anticipation had been planted inside me and my heart with pleasure filled and danced. I ran inside to show my Granny Glen my incredible discovery.

Scrambling at the door I couldn’t move quick enough. My index finger jammed in the book, crushed and stinging but desperately keeping my place. I burst into the living room, startling my gran. Still panting and with the sudden heat from the fire flushing my face, I opened the book and began to read. Two lines in, I hear her calming voice join me, and our voices melt into one. I couldn’t believe that she knew the poem too, the words so effortlessly floating from her and wrapping themselves around mine. I felt completely and utterly accepted. If having a vivid imagination and loving poetry made me like my gran then I no longer felt ashamed; I wandered lonely no more.


At a family party a few years ago, my gran, a little tipsy on red wine, pulled me and my then partner aside and proudly told him that she and I were the same. She cited our shared love of wine and cheese and then, pulling him closer, she whispered in slurs that it was our love of reading that really made us similar. She laughed and rejoined the party unaware that she had just given me the greatest compliment of my life. A year later my gran had a stroke. She survived but lost her ability to speak clearly. Some words come out and often in full sentences but mostly it’s just frustration. The frustration of a woman so defined by her words now unable to use them, of knowing what you want to say, preparing for the words to fall out and then nothing. She has the words inside of her just no way of getting to them, like a library on Sundays. When I look in her eyes, I can still see the same strong woman never afraid to share her opinion. I see words, so many words, spilling from books. And even though words are so rarely exchanged now, I know that we will always have the words printed between the royal blue covers of that Anthology.

We are together even when we are not.


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Terri Cameron is a Scottish Au Pair currently living in Paris, France. She spends most of her free time reading, writing and getting lost in Paris. She is currently working on the book of an original musical. Find her on Twitter as @TerriDactyl.

Call for Submissions

Throughout September, wifie.co will be accepting creative non-fiction; fiction and poetry surrounding the theme, Granny Stories.

We don’t know about you, but our Grannies had the best stories. Without our Grannies and their stories, we probably wouldn’t love hearing stories as much as we do today. Our first heroines were our Grannies, and we'd like to celebrate them, and all other Grannies, Grandmas, Nannies, Nans and Nanas. Whether you, like Steph, have some brutal-yet-hilarious tales to share from your Grandma's "time in the orphanage during the war." Or like Rachel, love a knit-along with your Granny to an episode of Are You Being Served? 

Send us writing about your Granny: a story your Granny told you perhaps, or maybe you’d like to write from the perspective of your Granny? Maybe you are a Granny yourself. Maybe you didn’t like your Granny. Maybe you never had a Granny but would like to make one up. We welcome creative responses to this theme:

  • All work must be previously unpublished in print or on-line, this includes self-publication
  • Fiction and creative non-fiction submissions must not exceed 3,000 words
  • A maximum of 3 poems may be submitted
  • We are not looking for extracts of larger works at this time.

All submissions must be emailed to: hello@wifie.co with the email subject ‘Granny.’ Submissions should be attached as a Word document with a word count included. Please include your name and author bio. Covering letters are welcome but not required. Please bear in mind that submissions that do not adhere strictly to our guidelines will not be read or considered.

If you are an artist/photographer/videographer or creator within any other medium, and you have
work that is related to the theme you think we would be interested in, please send an introductory email in the first instance.

The deadline for submission is Sunday 1 st October at 5pm. 

All writers will be responded to in a timely fashion after this date but unfortunately, due to the volume of submissions we cannot enter into any in-depth dialogue about your work.

The Colour of a Heart Attack

was what my mother said; 

pale vein blue and too

oxygen-starved for something that

drew blood, was not dead.

 

An act of love thornier 

than the passage of two sons,

two husbands: Twice 

in a Blue Moon, the first

 

rose bush I bought -  too soon?

(Second, a white diamond

anniversary gift named, 'Sixty Years!

But Aren't You Bored of This?')

 

My father circling Epsom Downs

for every multimillion pound

of horse shit; teasing the moon

every twenty-first of June

 

that the nights are drawing in now. 

I made perfume from the pink

and yellow petals that fell,

until it bubbled on my window sill

 

above and, shelling out love,

the knock-knock-knock of our

tortoises on the brown grass

past the beds, passed my head.

 

A bag of new roses is what

I thought you said. 

The colour of a heart attack

Was what my mother said.

 


Jane Murray Bird lives and writes in Edinburgh. Her poetry has appeared in magazines, including Magma and Mslexia.

Interview: Triona Scully

We recently caught up with Edinburgh based writer, Triona Scully, who published her first novel Nailing Jess, with Cranachan Publishing in June of this year. Triona lives in Edinburgh with her son and blogs at trionascully.com

 

For those of our readers who aren't familiar with your work, tell us a little about yourself and your debut novel, Nailing Jess?

Nailing Jess is my debut novel. It's a police procedural crime caper with a feminist theme. It's set in a fictional matriarchal Britain, in contemporary times. It focuses on catching a serial killer - The Withering Wringer - who is targeting local prostitutes. Setting it in a matriarchy allowed me to apply role reversal, so the women are alpha and the men, submissive. Despite its weighty premise it's mostly an absurd, comic tale.

What's your writing process like?

I try to write in the mornings. I try to write for an hour at a time, then take a break, aiming for four hours a day. That's in term time. When my son's off school, I write, when and where I can. I still time it, aiming for a minimum of twenty minutes at once.

Did you edit anything out of this book?

The book has been edited several times losing clutter and gaining better description and tighter sentencing, and all kinds of detail that make it better. However, nothing major has actually been edited out, since my first draft. My publishers, awesome Indy. company, Cranachan, were very committed to building on my original premise, rather than taking away from it. 

What's your advice to Wifie readers interested in publishing their own work?

Persistence, I am told, is everything in publishing. If one agent doesn't want you, try another. If no publisher will take you, enter a competition with publication as a prize. 

Any common traps for aspiring writers to avoid, in your experience?

I made the classic rookie mistake of including too many points of view. Points of view should be reserved for a small number of key characters and everyone else's story should be told through their eyes. Another early edit note was, show don't tell. Whenever possible, the reader should be witnessing the action, first hand, not hearing about it through the words or thoughts of the narrators.

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Nailing Jess is available to download on Amazon, or can be purchased at the Cranachan Publishing bookstore.

Did publishing your first book change your writing process?

It taught me a lot more discipline and allowed me to appreciate how much outside advice goes into shaping a novel.

What is your favourite childhood book?

Anything by Enid Blyton. I think I read Malory Towers and St Clare's series over a dozen times. Now, I'm trying to get my son in her - The Secret Seven Mysteries - but he's having non of it! He's a Horrid Henry man.

What was the most difficult part of the writing and publishing process for you in producing Nailing Jess?

The stage I am currently at. All the time. When writing the first draft, I thought nothing could get harder, 'till the first edit. Then, I did a second edit, which was harder still, or so it seemed. Then, I started looking for an agent/publisher and I truly don't know which was harder, writing painstakingly crafted letters to each individual company or reading the bland, generic rejections I received back, if they replied at all. When I got a publishing deal, the hardest things was editing with a professional. Allowing someone else to critique the work and radically alter parts of it. When I finally finished editing, I started to market it, and that is definitely the hardest part. It's almost as hard as writing the first draft of the next one...


Interview by Rachel Morgan-Bruce

Crow

A woman, red-hood eyes,

all wrong with life, 

walks across a bridge.

 

Flint etched cliffs behind,

mud banks below

hold stories in their sticky veins.

 

The Downs, alive with lovers.

Perhaps, she thinks, mine is there too.

His letter scorches her hand.

 

Gas lamps not yet lit,

chunter of factory –

shipbuilding, tobacco, cotton –

whistle and creak of railroad and dock.

 

She's left home, three to a room,

her job as barmaid.

No more Rising Suns.

Her dreams died with that letter.

 

On the bridge, she's begun to talk to dead friends –

from smallpox,

in child birth,

caught up in fights –

as if they might bring comfort.

 

Her heart troubles with its changing pace.

 

By evening, she's climbed the railings,

teetering on the parapet.

Before anyone can reach her,

she throws herself off.

 

Sky fills her crinoline skirt,

flies her crow-boned

to unwanted safety:

those mud banks below

with their sticky veins, their stories.


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Belinda Rimmer is interested in writing for performance, and increasingly works with children and young people. This poem, Crow, is  Belinda's re-imagining of the Bristol legend of Sarah Ann Henley. 

Belinda gained a PhD in Women's Voices in Contemporary Poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University in 2007, and since then has held Artist in Residence roles and led arts projects for various universities and councils. Read more of Belinda's poems here, www.belindarimmer.com

The first time i met the witch...


Artist Statement: The first time I met The Witch she was in the form of a toad. She croaked at me and I, thinking it only polite, croaked back. I was also in the form of a toad but for different reasons.

She told me about her life (t)here, trawling the dross-stream and showed me a few of the most interesting things that she had pulled up. In return I told her how I did not know whether I was going forwards or backwards (sideways, which is always a possibility, was not discussed). We mutually agreed that I was probably going in spirals and The Witch said that she, personally, had always thought the spiral the best form in which to travel. I went a bit red and said I was just doing the only thing I could (but was secretly very flattered by the compliment).

I make objects that play in the inexplicable hinterland between the known and the unknown, reality and fiction, the dream world and the waking. By blending together apparently anachronistic images and objects any ideas about singular narratives are dissolved and the viewer can enter into a new world of fluidity where anything is possible, if potentially absurd.  Physically this becomes manifest in my own work when I form gleefully representational objects out of the detritus of everyday life. Sequins, cardboard and wire are grafted together with thread to become a ram’s head filled with papier-mâché flowers which evokes both a museological artefact and the funfair. It is these lines (in this case the binary of seriousness and triviality), which appear absolute but in actual fact are permeable which particularly attract me - I want to find out how far these can be pushed.

At that moment, on finding myself to be tired I excused myself from the company. The Witch croaked her farewell and I raised my paw in response.


Fionnuala Mottishaw is a visual artist based in Edinburgh. Her work has most recently been exibited at: Dok Artist Space; Syn Festival; and the Scottish Storytelling Centre. See more of here work mottishaw.wordpress.com

FALSER THAN VOWS MADE IN WINE

The snow deadened all sound in Clogherhead. Even the sea had gone quiet, lying still and dark in the cold. All was shut up. The inn was in darkness, the fishing shacks were quiet, and not a soul stirred. Even the birds seemed still asleep beneath their wings. As the boy approached the cliff, he heard the slightest sigh, which was not a sound he was used to hearing from the sea. Most days in winter, it was a raging demon throwing itself at the foot of the cliffs, determined to pull them down so it could snatch at those who refused to leave the safety of the hearth. But this winter’s night had defeated the sullen beast.

     Cormac O’Hagan’s favourite thing was to walk the cliff path just before sunrise, when he had the whole world to himself. As soon as the cock crowed, he threw off sleep, took his cloak from his straw pallet and fastened himself into it. Then he slipped his still-warm feet into cold clogs, and made for the door. His jobs would wait till he got back and his sleeping family had roused themselves.

     He went to the fire and stroked the dog’s ears until she opened a grumpy terrier eye, showing no desire to leave the warmth. But the old cat stalked away from the embers on stiff legs, so Cormac opened the door a crack. Snow had drifted against the door, and a little fell over the threshold as the cat brushed through it. Cormac stepped out, pulling the door shut behind him, leaving everyone sound asleep under cloaks, rugs and whatever else they could lay their hands on to keep warm through the cruel night. The few plants outside were swaddled in white and the moonlight made everything look friendly. He followed the cat’s paw prints until they vanished near the high wall on the way to the sea.

     ‘Gone down to the caves in search of a fishy breakfast, have you, old girl?’

     The cold air made the boy gasp, so he buried his mouth back in his muffler, and crunched through the immaculate snow. It was not far to the cliff, certainly no more than a half-mile. As he walked, his warm breath made his muffler damp.

     Every day, as the sun began to rise, Cormac would hold out his arms, uncurl his stubby digits – and, in the same way that his hand could blot out the sun – his fingers could touch the surrounding shorelines of County Louth. With outstretched arms, he would twirl and trace the horizon with his fingertips. Today, he took up a position a little further back than usual for fear of slipping in the snow and falling into the silent sea. He waited, with arms wide open and eyes closed, for the sun to announce its arrival by casting a golden glow across his eyelids.

     When warmth finally bathed his eyes, he opened them to watch the sun shimmer into life on the eastern horizon. But something was wrong. He rubbed his eyes with his knuckles, wondering whether he had left his pallet at all, wondering whether he might still be dreaming. But all his rubbing changed nothing. When Cormac looked again, his heart began to pound and his hands began to tremble. He wondered whether he should fall to his knees, but his legs had locked, holding him in place. The boy held out his trembling hands and blocked out two of the monstrous suns that had risen. But it was impossible to block out the third sun. This solar triptych, of course, was God appearing to Cormac in his three forms. Father. Son. Ghost. The boy shivered in the glorious presence of the Holy Trinity. This must be a sign from God. But what sign could God be sending to Cormac O’Hagan, the boy with an eternally snot-ridden nose, and one so badly cursed with the sin of greed? Was it on account of his greed that God had shown Himself? Or was it, perhaps, that other thing? Cormac closed his eyes, his cheeks alight with shame. But all boys did that. They all tried hard not to. But still, surely God would not come down from on high for that? It must, then, be a good sign. God must have a special message of sorts, just for him. He swallowed the huge lump that had taken hold in his throat and tried to speak. His voice betrayed him, coming out in that terrible squeak it had taken on of late.

     ‘Dearest Father, I do not know if it is me you have come for. But as there is only me here, then you must want me. Holy, holy, Father, if it is me that you want, then whatever it is that you want me for, I will do it. You have my word.’

     Cormac squinted into the three suns, bracing himself for the booming voice of God, but none came. He nodded, thinking to himself for a moment.

     ‘So, then this must be a sign… a sign like the burning bush. I have to work out what sign you are sending me, Father.’

     He bit the inside of his cheek, hoping it would stop the tic that had flared up there. God would not want a boy with a tic, of that much he was sure.

     ‘Dearest Father, this must be my calling. Straight from heaven. Is this my calling? You want me to work it out for myself, then? Well, Father, it is not something I hoped for, in truth, but here is my answer. Holy Father. I will do it. I will serve you, God, for all of my life. Amen.’

     As fast as the miracle had appeared, the second and third suns vanished, leaving only a single watery sun to continue rising into the sky. Cormac watched it for a while, then, newly promised to God, he ran straight home to break the news to his bleary-eyed family.

* * *

     ‘Mammy, I have had a sign from God. I am to be a priest and will soon be away to the seminary.’

     His mother hugged him hard. ‘Cormac, I am filled with such a desperate joy. See, the eldest son is always destined for God.’

     ‘Sure. One way or another, if you don’t stop half-strangling the lad,’ intoned his father. ‘I suppose the useless lump may as well put his blather to some good use.’

     Naturally, young Cormac could not wait to explain his new-found vocation to his friends and the hefty nun who taught them. He arrived at the schoolroom, breathless and untidy, bursting with his tale, but he was forced to contain himself until after morning prayers.

     When the class had finished mumbling into their chests, they got to their feet and Sister Bronach glanced at Cormac with her hard, blue eyes. ‘Go on then, O’Hagan. Tell your tale, since it seems we must all suffer until you do.’

     His broad face alight with being chosen, Cormac O’Hagan stood at the front of the class. With a full range of explanatory hand movements, he demonstrated how God had made His sign by showing Himself in the form of three suns.

     ‘So now, I am called to give myself to God and become one of His priests.’

     His honest, brown eyes shone with wonder as he gazed around the schoolroom, waiting for the adulation to begin.

     ‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph, O'Hagan!’ The nun’s jowls wobbled with mirth and the whole class smirked at Sister Bronach’s interjection. ‘Why on earth would the Holy Father waste His precious time talking to you when He has wonders to perform? You did not see God. You saw sun dogs, you thundering great ingot, two false suns that dog the real one. It was seen up and down the coast by the fishermen, and I doubt many of them are to give over catching fish to take to the cloth.’

     This set the class sniggering. Cormac stared forlornly at these boys with their holey jumpers, piss-stained britches and running sores. His own scabbed face burnt while the sister took vicious delight in explaining the parhelion that he had witnessed.

* * * 

     So that was the day Cormac O’Hagan knew that God had not revealed Himself in His infinite majesty. Now his vocation was gone, he would stop going to the cliff. No more would he trace the halo of his homeland with his fingertips. God had not spoken to him. God had not singled him out. There was no God.

     But still, the notion of becoming a priest hung over the boy. Each night, he lay awake, hot-eyed and fidgety on his straw pallet, until he determined that he would still become a priest. What else was there to do on these shores for a boy who could read and write? It would mean living a lie, with eyes downcast, but then so did half the congregation at church. And it would be a lie based on the best of intentions – how could he crush his dear mother’s desperate joy?

     He would not do it in Ireland though. Far better to spread his lies where the congregation had not watched him growing up. Surely, a mother could tell a lie on her grown son's face at fifty feet because she had seen his first baby lies, watched them grow, seen the tics, and the lines they made as falsehood etched its worm-casts into the man’s face. Juries should be composed of mothers.

* * *

     The priest suggested that Cormac start by serving as altar boy. He would have to go to the church and practise for his first service. The honour made his heart race. Although he had almost changed his mind when Sister Bronach opened the vestry door to him. During the preparation session, the nun puffed between orders.

     ‘Hang your own clothes here, on this peg. Wear this robe, the white one. Fasten the rope just so. Hold the candle still. Stand up straight. Sing along to all the hymns, don’t just mouth the words. Hang your head and look suitably penitent. Keep your eyes shut during prayers. Do not peer under your eyelashes to see what the girls at the back are doing. Stop that now. No impure thoughts in God’s house. Kneel right there. Rise without using your hands. Be filled with grace at all times. The Father looks after the wine. You do not touch the wine. And do not drop that candle. It is a sacrament, most particularly since it will be Candlemas. I do not know what the Father was thinking. But there you are, it is not for me to have an opinion on these matters.’

* * *

     Come Candlemas, Cormac’s humours were so out of kilter that he left his breakfast for the first time in his life, even knowing it worried his mother sick. Today, the villagers would carry their candles into church to be blessed. Together, they would celebrate the purification of the Virgin with a shoreline procession, carrying the Blessed Virgin shoulder-high. Back at home, there would be the lighting of candles and the illicit cheer of seeking omens in the flames to make predictions for the coming year.

     The church was dark. There was no light shining from the windows, so Cormac walked round the back, shivering as he stepped through the graveyard, with only the moon and the snow for light. The stone angels and crosses were furred with frost, and the dead flowers were bowed under a coat of snow.

     A thin, orange light glowed from the window, but the stout door was locked. Cormac thumped it with the side of his fist, and waited. Delicious icicles hung from the vestry roof, shining in the moonlight, so he stretched up and snapped one off to suck. It was pure, cold and smooth against his lips, melting in the heat of his mouth. It tasted of cold nothingness with a tang of metal. His reverie was suddenly broken when a wet thump hit him between the shoulder blades, and he nearly choked on the icicle.

     ‘So, O’Hagan? We locked out then?’

     ‘The very youngest O’Neill. I might have known it.’

     ‘What was in your gob?’

     ‘Nothing. An icicle.’

     O’Neill snapped off two more, passing one to Cormac. ‘Have you knocked?’

     ‘Obviously, Fergal O’Neill, I am not soft-headed.’

     ‘Then we wait. So, child, are you serving as well?’

     ‘Child, yourself.’ Cormac bristled. The O’Neill boy was scarce an inch taller than him. And he was the youngest of that dreadful brood.

     ‘My mother says it is a sin against God to even let an O’Hagan into the chancel, unless it is to char. Especially a snot-nosed one like you, she says.’

     Cormac bit the end off his icicle, trying not to cringe at the pain in his teeth. ‘What is that supposed to mean? What would your mother know about the church, the chancel or charring? Or about us O’Hagans? At least I am the eldest, Fergal, and not the runt of the litter like yourself.’

     But O’Neill was spared from answering by a grating noise as the door heaved open to reveal the verger.

     ‘Come on in, lads, before you catch your deaths.’

     Fergal pushed through the door first, and they went into the vestry. Cormac opened a cupboard crammed with robes, sashes and ropes. How would he know what to wear? Sister Bronach bustled through the door just then. She was an unlikely saviour, but for the first time ever, Cormac was glad to see her.

     ‘Now, O’Hagan, don’t just stand there with your mouth open catching flies. O’Neill, pass him down a fitting robe.’

     Fergal smirked and passed Cormac a robe that looked as though it might fit an infant.

     ‘Sure, Sister, O’Hagan will be wearing a Christening gown, no? He is so small!’

     Cormac glared at Fergal, wishing for thunderbolts.

     ‘Now get ready, boys, since I must light the candles. Woe betide if either of you so much as think of raising voice or hand in God’s house. Be sure I will hear of it first.’

     Sister Bronach bustled out, turning sideways so she could fit through the vestry door. Face burning, Cormac hauled the robe over his head to hide his shame.

     So, finally, the time had come. Candlemas. Holy Communion. Cormac and Fergal trailed down the aisle after Sister Bronach and several villagers disguised in black cloaks. At the front of the procession, was the priest. The church had been transformed with hundreds of candles flickering from every ledge, sill and pew. Cormac inhaled. Good beeswax candles, not the nasty tallow ones from home. The flames gave life to the glass saints in the windows, and they seemed to dance and wave to him.

     The boys’ first job was to guard the big altar candles. Cormac’s candlestick came up to his shoulder and the fat candle came up to his eyes. O’Neill’s candle only came up to his chin, so his was an easier job. Normally, the church was freezing, but the flickering candles made it strangely warm today. Everyone else got to sit during the service, except for the altar boys who had to stand for the entire morning. Cormac stood so straight that his ankles rubbed together. Still, it kept him awake. Although staring at Fergal O’Neill’s ugly mug for a whole morning without stopping was much more tiring than Cormac had expected.

     The old priest was renowned for his long and horrible sermons, and there were far too many hymns. The strange Latin and the strong incense began to have a lulling effect on Cormac, which was made worse by the monotonous voice of the priest, who clearly thought it a mortal sin to change his tone up or down. Cormac started to feel hot, due to having a thick robe over his outdoor clothes and also standing next to a giant candle. When the congregation stood up to sing, they seemed rather far away to the sweating boy. Cormac tried to concentrate on the tiled floor for a while, but all the little squares of red, white, blue and yellow dazzled his eyes, and he had to do a few big blinks to clear the whirling rainbow from his head. The candle was soothing to look at, though, so he stared into the flame to keep his eyes off the moving mosaic on the floor.

     During the singing, Cormac could hear the priest trying to keep up with the organist, who always played as if he were in a race against everyone else. Cormac could not remember half the words to ‘Te Deum’, so he just shuffled his lips, turning his head a little so that Sister Bronach did not see. The congregation were slightly out of time and hugely out of tune, and the words span around him. The cherubim, the seraphim, all that precious blood, the redeeming and the glory – everything combined with the heat and the noise, looking at O’Neill’s stupid sneer, and the eternally spinning mosaic.

     Although now very far away, Fergal O’Neill was staring at him quite strangely. Cormac wished harder than ever for thunderbolts, but the effort made him feel peculiar, as if he had a head full of grey wool. It sounded as though the congregation were singing a different hymn to the priest. He could not stand still any more, and now the candle flame pulled him towards it, causing him to sway. The morning sun shone through the stained-glass windows, making patterns, and splintering saints all over the aisle. Cormac’s face felt very hot now, and he could smell the acrid odour of burning hair. Black ash started to fall in front of his eyes and he wobbled. Fergal O’Neill’s mouth was wide open. Everyone stopped singing and started chattering. Then the verger ran towards him and caught him as he sank to the hard floor.

     When he opened his eyes, Cormac was in the front pew, looking up at the ribs of the church roof. His mother’s face swam above him and there was a sharp smell of hartshorn, which gave him a cough and made his eyes water. The verger pulled him to his feet and hurried him back to the vestry. Cormac hung his head, trying to avoid the sight of Fergal O’Neill’s grinning face as he went.

     Back in the vestry, he slumped onto a wooden stool, hanging his head and watching the verger from the corner of his eye. The verger plucked a robe from the cupboard and wrestled his stout body into it.

     ‘Now don’t take on so, lad.’

     Cormac blinked hard. He was afraid to open his mouth for fear his squeaking voice would betray him and his terrible lies.

     ‘Now then, son, it was only your first time. Plenty of lads come over as though they’d swallowed a poisoned pup on their first time out.’

     The verger’s kind words made a terrible lump rise up in Cormac’s throat and it made his chin start to quiver. He forced himself to smile at the verger, his lips pressed tight together, his eyes gleaming and his chin quivering. But how could the verger possibly know? That if God existed, then this was a sure sign from God that he was not meant for the priesthood. Who would want a boy that could not even be trusted with a candle, let alone a baby, a bride or a body? It would have to be the fishing for him, after all, or the teaching.

     The verger patted his shoulder. ‘Come, lad. I will take your place for now. Stay there till you feel better and you might be well enough for the shoreline procession after. And next time you have a turn at being altar boy, eat a hearty breakfast first. Your rumbling belly nearly drowned out the sermon.’

     Cormac looked at the verger’s kind face and knew that he could never possibly understand. He rubbed the charred remnants of hair from his face. The humiliation of being mocked by the very youngest O’Neill made him heartsick and he just wanted to go home. His chin wobbled some more, and a traitorous tear finally ran down his face.


Helen Steadman is a PhD student at the University of Aberdeen. She is currently working on a second historical novel, under the supervision of Dr. Helen Lynch. Helen's first historical novel, Widdershins, is based on the seventeenth-century witch trials in Newcastle, and will be published by Impress Books on July 1st, 2017. Read more from Helen at helensteadman.com

Inheritance

She was being taken to buy new boots. She was always needing new things - she ran too much, grew too quickly, wore out shoes, clothes, her mother. It was a struggle, Marie knew by the time she was twelve, having a child whose feet grew a whole size every few months, and worried what size they made shoes up to, at what point did you have to go barefoot. She went with her Gran to the small parade of shops near where they lived, to the one shoe shop, the only one necessary. It had long curved windows polished so bright and clear you felt you could put your hand straight through and touch the plain black pumps, sensible brown leather courts, men’s working boots and a carefully arranged display of shoe horns, boot shapers and shoe stretchers hanging from plastic hooks in order of size. As they walked in following the long winding curve of the window down the black and white tiled corridor there were silver party shoes, high sling-back stilettos, and peep toe mules with diamante studded heels that curved into almost nothing at the bottom, shoes made for dance floors not pavements. Her gran dusted her coat down with hands that were pink and round with small fingers like mini pork sausages. Everything about her was round and plump, except for her feet, which, it was generally agreed, were very dainty, size three, small and lady like and her ankles puffed and spilled out over the tops of her brown ankle boots, making them look even smaller. At her last fitting, Marie was a devastating size five. She’d asked her mother why when she wasn’t tall and her mother had said, “ Don’t blame me, you get your feet off yer father.” She’d asked her dad and he’d said, “There’s nothin’ wrong with ye hen , its yer genetic inheritance. Be proud of it, and anyway, apart from those plates of meat, yer as dainty as a ballerina. And look at that Goldilocks hair, eh?” She’d let him ruffle his fingers through it, knowing it wasn’t gold it was gingery blonde the same as her mother and her gran, though her gran’s was pale now, almost white, and twisted with curling papers into crispy whorls that were stuffed under a black velvet cloche hat that was shiny with years of brushing up the nap and held on with a white pearl pin. Her coat was buttoned up tight around her barrel of a body, she moved with small quick shuffling steps as though it hurt her to walk. Her handbag, the size of a small case and made of battered black leather, hung on her arm, where she held it like a shield in front of the swell of her stomach and breasts. She dropped Marie’s hand and started to fiddle with the clasp, opening it, checking her purse, her door keys, her spare hat pin, running them through her fingers until she saw Marie watching and shut the clasp. As they went in a bell on a spring jangled. She could almost feel her toes growing, the joints creaking slightly and the bones springing forward like a transformation scene in a werewolf movie.

At first they brought out the girls shoes but as she had dreaded, she was already a six, too big and too wide for most of them, so they brought out the ladies boots, the sort of stuff her gran wore in the snow, with thick rubber soles and elasticated plastic tops, black wellington boots and galoshes, hanging big and ugly at the bottom of her legs . She started to ;put her old shoes back on, saying it’s okay, I don’t need boots, but the woman looked at her gran as though asking permission and pulled off a shelf a big flat box that had gold lettering on the lid and a soft black pattern embossed into the cardboard. As soon as she opened it and lifted one partially out checking first with a look to her gran that it was okay, Marie knew, they were The Ones. When her gran nodded, the assistant held them out to her – soft tan leather, knee high and shaped to fit slim legs and shapely ankles, with gently rounded toes and thin leather soles stitched neatly all the way round, and finished with a delicately tapered heel of polished wood.

They pulled on like a second skin with small almost invisible zips on the inside of the leg that made them snug. She stood up and put one foot slightly in front of the other, balancing perfectly on the small dark wooden heels. Somewhere in the background the shop assistant’s voice said the price. She sat down keeping her face blank and strated unzipping them. The shop girl asked her, How do they feel? She mumbled Nice, looking at the swirly patterned carpet, conscious of her gran silently opening her handbag, getting out her second purse, counting out notes one after the other. Her head started buzzing at the thought of having so much money spent on her – she knew she ought to say she didn’t like them or they were too tight in the toes, something that would let her gran put her purse away, but it was too late and the shop assistant was saying, Aren’t you a lucky girl , having such a nice granny and her gran was looking at her saying, If they’re the best fit ye’d better get them, hadn’t you?, then handing over the money to the girl who wrapped them in pale gold tissue paper and laid them carefully in the box.

As they walked home, she was thinking she would hide the box and the tissue paper, for then they wouldn’t look so expensive. They weren’t chatting like they usually did so she said, Thanks granny. Her gran nodded and smiled then went into the butcher and came out with a hough for soup, nothing else. It was wrapped in a piece of newspaper stained red with blood. Marie put the shoe shop bag down on the ground and wrapped her arms around her gran as far as they would go. Her gran tutted and said, They look lovely on you hen, you deserve them – just don’t tell yer Mum and Dad how much they cost.

When her mother came to pick her up after work, she took one look at the boots and without saying anything her gran stood up and they both walked into the kitchen together closing the living-room door behind them. Marie put her ear against the wall, heard her mother hissing “What were you thinking? How much?”, and her gran knocking a few pounds off the price and then they came back into the living-room and everything was normal - tea, biscuits, a word for word description of Mrs McLeod’s hysterectomy as reported by Mrs McLeod herself then a low-voiced murmuring she wasn’t meant to understand about what the Betterware salesman was doing with the new woman upstairs whose husband was away at sea. Marie lost interest and started to stroke her boots, until her mother gave her a sharp look so she tucked her feet under the sofa out of sight. As soon as they got home, her mother told her to hide the box under the bed, saying, Don’t let him see them and don’t say a bloody word, d’ye hear me?

Her mother never swore, so when she heard the bang of the close door and the rhythm of her father’s boots on the stone stairs, she went into the back room without being asked, got out her old toy box and played with childish dolls she hadn’t touched in months, dragging a plastic comb through Barbies hair extension while her father shouted “How much? ” and her mother shushed him as he shouted an amount several pounds less than what her gran had told her mum. Marie was still wearing the boots and she stroked them while her father said, We can take them back can’t we? and her mother didn’t answer and then he swore and she sat hugging her knees in the corner of the room until her mother called her in for dinner. When she opened the living-room door, he didn’t look up at her as he usually did, just sat by the fire, arranging his boots for the next day, then picking up the paper and flicking quickly through the pages, until her mother put three clean plates on the table. She could smell the potatoes burning and hear the last of the boiling water turn to steam, hissing and spitting on the bottom of the pot, which still sat on the stove in the corner on a low heat. Her mother lifted it and threw the potatoes onto their plates with sliced ham and they sat chewing in silence. She went to bed early without being asked, kept the boots by the side of her bed, her fingers slipping out from under the blankets every now and then to touch them, making sure they were still there.

It was warm the next day, but she wore the boots to school anyway. They were lighter, fitted her better than anything else she had ever worn, in the playground they said, No way your granny bought you those? You’ll get into trouble from the teacher, they’re grown-up boots, yer not allowed tae wear grown-up boots. She didn’t care, she sat in class with her legs crossed, ladylike. Miss Kerr didn’t say anything, but Marie saw her looking, a little half smile on her face.

There was Scripture Union after school, where they watched a film about missionaries and Miss Brown told them about The Children in Africa and said Scottish children didn’t know how lucky they were. On the way home, she wondered if she was safe, they couldn’t take them back now, she thought, but the scene at the shoe shop played in her head anyway - her Dad with his fists bunched and his jaw sticking out the way it did when he talked about politics or the Royal family and the shop assistant saying, I’m terribly sorry sir but they’ve already been worn. She let herself in quietly with the key she kept on a string round her neck, then took the boots off and left them beside her bed before going into the living-room. He turned from where he was sitting gazing into the fire, Where are they then? Bring them here...

She fetched them from the bedroom and saw that he’d got out the metal tin that he kept the shoe polish and brushes in. He took them off her and stroked them, I think Light Tan, eh? She nodded dumbly as he opened the tin, breathed the rich waxy smell while he worked the polish in, buffed them up with a duster and handed them over, Just make sure you look after them. She nodded and carried them back into the bedroom before he changed his mind. It was weeks before her grandmother visited their house and the boots were never mentioned, again, though Marie wore them right through winter and spring and into the next summer, by which time her feet had grown and they were starting to pinch. She’d developed a slight limp while wearing them and people had stopped commenting on how nice they were.

Sometime between Christmas and spring, her gran stopped wearing outside clothes and sat all day at the table at the living-room window which faced into the street. Between spring and summer she took to bed. Marie kept visiting and always wore the boots regardless of the weather - she felt it was only polite somehow. She’d draw up a chair next to the bed, undo the zips to get a bit of air into her sweating legs. wriggle her toes and talk about school. By the end of June, she’d stopped talking and sat instead, scratching the insect bites on her legs while her gran slept. The last time Marie saw her was at the end of July. It had become a Freak Summer, pope developed lobster red suntans, men walked along the street stripped to the waist and the Daily Record had a photograph of a woman frying an egg on the pavement. She wore her boots with shorts and a halter neck top. Her feet throbbed as she walked to her gran’s house where she found her awake and sitting up in her crocheted bed jacket with a fresh nightie on, her face thin, her eyes bright. She smiled at Marie and told her to bring over a small jewellery box that sat beneath the dressing-table mirror, opened the lid, said Hold out yer hand, then placed in Marie’s palm an enamelled brooch in the shape of a butterfly, with the veins in the wings picked out in bronze metal. The pin was broken but she held it in her hand letting the light catch the red flecked wings until her gran said she was tired and it was time to go. Marie put the brooch carefully in her bag before zipping up the boots and hobbling out of the room.

Marie had never seen her mother cry before - she cried when the minister said gran was a Good Woman and Loyal Parisioner even though no-one in the family had been to church for years, she cried when they started singing The Old Rugged Cross, she cried washing dishes at the sink, reading the newspaper, stirring sugar into her tea, she cried until they’d finally eaten all the left over sausage rolls and salmon sandwiches from the funeral. Then she suddenly stopped and started eyeing up Marie’s boots and talking ominously about bunions, club feet and hammer toes. She put on make-up for the first time in weeks, shoved the boots in an old shopping bag and marched Marie down to the Salvation Army shop where the air smelled of the racks of old clothing, tweed coats, patterned nylon blouses and yellowing men’s shirts, swaying in the breeze from outside as if they were filled with the ghosts of the people who had worn them. Above the racks of shirts, someone had sellotaped to the wall a band of black paper with Bible quotes printed in gold lettering - ”Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth, Blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven, Jesus said,”Today you shall be with me in paradise”

Her mother pushed her towards the counter, said in her best shop voice,

“These are too small for my daughter but they’re extremely good quality”

The woman behind the counter started to smile,

“That’s very kind...

Marie heaved the bag up, let it thump heavily onto the counter, turned and walked out of the shop without speaking. She walked past the stained glass windows of the chapel, past the cafe where they sometimes stopped as a treat, past the shelter where people waited for buses to take them into town and wondered if her gran was in paradise, if she’d been good and meek enough. She hoped that no-one at the school got the boots, maybe one of the kids who she’d been told were not as lucky as her. She heard her mother’s footsteps behind her but pretended not to hear, didn’t stop until they got to the corner of their own street when her mother caught up and shouted, What’s wrong, for goodness sake, you didn’t think they were going to last for ever, did you?” Marie clenched her fists to keep herself from speaking. Her mother reached her arms out and they hovered for a minute. Marie held hers straight by her sides and her eyes on the ground till her mother’s arms fell back again and she smiled too brightly and said, Tell you what, let’s go to Joe’s and get some ice- cream.

She had double scoops of vanilla with raspberry sauce, ate it in silence till every last bit was gone. They went home where her mother made dinner which Marie didn’t eat. No-one said anything not even her father. The cold sweet ache stayed in her stomach all night while she lay awake, her fingers stroking the smooth enamel of her gran’s butterfly brooch.

The summer went quickly after that later, she got new sandals, with gold straps, cork wedge soles and yellow suede daisies on the front - size seven. They got a colour TV, her hair got darker, when her best friend got back from holiday she’d grown breasts and was wearing a bra. It was as though someone had turned a dial on a time machine and life had speeded up – the straps on her sandals burst and the cork soles disintegrated, it was time to go back to school, her gran was gone and there was only the memory of her beautiful kid leather boots.


Morag McDowell-Smith

INTERVIEW: Catherine Hokin

If you were lucky enough to hear Catherine Hokin at the Audacious Women Festival, you already know she is a powerhouse of Medieval Historical Fiction.  With a particular interest in the hidden female voice, Catherine studied women and the role of political propaganda, and witchcraft during her History Degree. No stranger to the writer's sphere, Catherine was a finalist in the Scottish Arts Club 2015 Short Story Competition, has been published in IScot Magazine, and blogs regularly for The History Girls.

We caught up with Catherine this week to find out about her  debut novel, Blood and Roses.

1. Tell us about why you started writing, and the inspiration behind your most recent book, Blood and Roses

Like a lot of avid readers, I have always wanted to write and it is something I have done a lot of in various jobs along the way but always non-fiction. I got a chance to carve out some real as opposed to snatched fiction writing time about 4 years ago and jumped on it! Blood and Roses (my debut novel) stems from an obsession with the Wars of the Roses which goes back far too far to share with you and a fascination with Margaret that kicked off when I was studying history at university. I do like battles and feisty women whose reputations have been a bit messed up.

2. What is your favourite characteristic of Margaret of Anjou?

Her determination which is probably both her best and her worst feature. She made tough decisions in tough times because she believed in the justness of her cause and knew she had the skills needed to fight for it, even when those weren’t the skills she was expected to have as a woman. She did make some bad choices but I’ve never been a fan of perfect people – they aren’t interesting..

3. How important is it to you that the female characters in your short stories are interpreted as strong by readers? 

I think it is more important that they are interpreted as plausible and interesting. Strength is very subjective – Alice Morgan in Stolen Moments is very strong but not in a good way, Margaret in Blood and Roses is strong because she has to be and is perhaps too strong. For both these women, other people pay the price of their strength.

4. You've won a number of prizes for your writing, including runner up in the 2014 Prolitzer Prize, do you think taking part in competitions is important for young writers?

I think it is important for anyone trying to learn more about the craft which is how I approach them. If possible I always pay for the critique – the feedback is always good and I know my stories (and novels) go through lots of drafts before they work and sometimes you get too close to your own writing. I always act on the comments. Getting placed is great validation but you have to be realistic – I’ve had a story come nowhere in one competition and then win another so you can’t judge yourself by this kind of success/failure! I’m a fan of submitting more than competing if that makes sense – get yourself out there.

5. What advice would you give young writers, looking for a way into historical fiction?

Young or old, read the genre – if you don’t like it, you shouldn’t be writing it which is probably the yardstick for all writing. And choose a time period you really care about it – you need to write 4 books in a set (time period) so if you hate the Romans do not write about the Romans! You also need to love research, you will spend a lot of time doing it and I mean a lot.

6. What are you currently reading?

The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch – I’m writing a book about obsession so I’m reading lots of obsessed books.

7. What should we expect to see next from you?

More tricky women! My second novel, set in the 14 th century, is with my agent and she is doing her thing with that while I get on with my 3 rd which is set in the 12 th century. So, medieval for a while. For short stories I’m playing around with magical realism and submitting with crossed fingers.

8. Who is your favourite WIFIE?

I usually judge that by who I’d like to go out on the lash with, to use another favourite phrase, which means someone gobby, political, funny and a feminist. On that basis my current favourite would have to be Meryl Streep but can I also take Tina Fey and Amy Poehler? That would be a bit of a night I think.


Interview by Rachel Morgan-Bruce

FICTION: Love on the Streets

‘Yuk, that’s bogging.’

     Willie is the love of my life, the light in my eyes, but his Gregg’s choices are dodgy.

     ‘You’re havering Sal. This is my kingdom,’

     Willie extends his arm, sweeping across the view of the end of

Edinburgh’s Rose Street, hamming it up, like an old actor in a play,

     ‘and this is food fit fer a king.’

     He bites into it, with more uncalled for overacting. Mashed potato and baked beans piled on top of a Scotch pie. The whole thing deftly balanced in the baker’s paper bag.

     ‘It’s no, it’s bogging. Just watching you eat it makes me wantae puke.’

     He grins at me, the smile that gets me every time, the complete stomach flip.

     ‘Well I minded that you dinnae appreciate king’s food, and so my queen, I got ye a sausage roll.’

     He offers a Gregg’s bag; the greasy shape of the sausage roll, shining through, confirms the contents. I can feel the warmth of the pastry through the paper, and my mouth fills with saliva. We hadnae any spare money fer breakfast, hungers hovers in my stomach above yesterday’s too sweet cider.

     ‘Thanks Willie, that’s magic. I’m starving.’

     I retreat back to the shelter of my usual doorway; a cardboard box folded on the ground, is meant to protect me from the damp pavement chill, but I’m still cold. I cup both hands round the warm sausage roll and sniff the familiar smell, before biting through the hot, flaky pastry, catching the first edge of the soft and slightly salty meat between my teeth. I eat it slowly to make the pleasure last.

     I always sit here. It allows me to watch his performance, but I’m far enough away not to cramp his style. Willie has a grand way with women.

     A woman is coming along Rose Street towards us now. Her high heels ring out on the pavement. As she gets closer to Willie she ducks her head and clamps her arm across her chest to her shoulder, I can see the knuckles of her left hand whiten, as she clenches tightly on the handle of her expensive bag, as if she expects it to be wrenched away.

     I’m know I’m supposed to keep well out of Willie’s performance, but anger rises through me like heat. It takes all my self-control to keep my words muttered under my breath,

     ‘We’re no thieves ye stupid bitch.’

     Willie hears me and glares.

     ‘Shoosh you,’ he hisses, before stepping out to begin his act.

     ‘Big Issue lovely lady? My first sale ae the day and you look like yer feeling generous.’

     He anticipates her side swerve around him, and steps back to give her more room, ushering her past, with a theatrical bow. The woman never raises her head but the loud tut reverberates up the high walls of Rose Street.

     Willie just shrugs. It breaks my heart when they’re rude tae him.

     ‘Told ye she was a bitch. Ye shouldnae have wasted yer breath on her.’

     ‘No hen, a ken that type, that’s a Morningside lady, all fur coat and nae knickers.’

     ‘Thon’s no a fur coat, it’s blue fer a start.’

     ‘You ken fine what I mean,’ he replies.

     ‘Well, whatever her coat, she’s a bitch.’

     He’s already walking away, ready to ambush the next person. This time a girl of maybe twenty, dressed from head to toe in black. Big heavy boots with black laces all the way up over her ankles. Black skinny jeans, black tights visible through the horizontal tears in the fabric. A leather jacket covered in studs. The glint of the metal also from the rings in both her nostrils and the many rings fringing her ears, in my head she tinkles and chinks. Her hair is dyed black and gelled to stick up like a crown, and her face is blanked white with make-up, except her lips and eyebrows that are painted black. It’s a really cool look. I ken this lassie, she’s one ae Willie’s favourite customers.

     ‘What a bonny sight fer sair een. Here comes my Princess, looking as gorgeous as ever.’

     She’s already digging in her jacket pocket for money.

     ‘Hiya, Willie, how’re ye doing.’

     She gives him the coins and he catches her hand as she reached for the magazine, her fingernails were gnawed short and painted black.

     ‘I’m doing pure dead brilliant darling.’ He blows her a kiss before releasing her hand, and she gives him a small wave from her wrist, then she takes the magazine. Willie’s maybe as old as her grandfather, and I love her fer humouring him.

     ‘See ye, Willie,’ she says with another smile.

     Willie’s patter has been on top form, and within two hours all the magazines are gone. I budge up to give him room on the cardboard and he hugs me. I know his breath smells ae cider and his coat’s a bit rank, but I love that he’s my man, and expect I dinnae smell that marvellous either.

     ‘Another lovely day ae freedom, whaur will I whisk ye tae theday my pet? Howzabout a wee dander through Princes Street Gardens? Let’s grab some cider and hike over tae oor favourite bench.’

     ‘That’d be grand.’

     I smile, and wriggle my arm to loop through his. I have to concentrate to match his stride. My boots; lifted from outside a charity shop, are too big for me, and my toes are so cold I cannae grip wi’ them. Using a kindae scuffling skip, I manage to keep up. We cross the confusion of tram rails and kerbs on Princes Street, before reaching the Gardens. I look and smile into his grimy, happy face. Willie makes me feel safe.

It’s taken all the way into June this year, but finally, a sunny day has turned up. I celebrated by binning my socks. My feet were too hot in boots and somehow my grubby socks seemed determined to crawl down around my heels. But this was a crap idea, the boots rubbed my bare feet and now every step is torture.

     ‘Willie, can we no turn in? My feet are killing me.’

     ‘Sorry, hen, no yet.’ The path’ll be mobbed wi’ people, first wee blink ae sun and they all think they’re in Spain.’

     Our new sleeping spot is a secret. We inherited it fae Wee Eric, who doesnae need it on account of being housed in Saughton Prison for three months. We’re careful to make sure that no one sees us go in or out.

     It’s after ten before Willie eventually relents. He has to take my hand to steady me, as I limp down the cobbled wynd that curves round below Dean Bridge. We make our way under its huge arches and sit on the wall, waiting for the path to be empty. The next bit is even more difficult than normal, I simply cannae climb the steep slope in my boots. Kicking them off, it’s a relief tae feel the cool earth under my toes, as Willie takes my hand and hauls me up the slope. Eventually we reach the top and retrieve our sleeping bags from their hiding place, then we crawl under the shelter ae the bridge overhang.

     ‘Listen to me peching. I think maybe Eric forgot that I’m no that young anymore.’

     ‘I think yer fitter than Eric, he’s that busy sticking stuff in his arm he forgets to eat.’ I tell him.

     I’m relieved tae coorie into my sleeping bag right up against Willie. Warm happiness trickles through me, as we share a litre ae cider, and we watch the last of the pink light drain out ae the sky behind the grand houses on the high bank opposite. This place is beautiful. Soon, the noise of the traffic diminishes to the occasional car over the bridge, leaving only the sound of the rushing stream below.

     There are only a few hours of wakeful darkness, before the light starts tae come back and the birds go crazy with singing. I wriggle out of my sleeping bag to inspect my sore feet, they dinnae look too clever. Blisters have burst on both my heels and little toes, and my feet are extra filthy from the walk up the bank. I exchange a glance with Willie, nothing’s said, but we both remember, that Molly died of blood poisoning the year before, after letting her dirty feet get infected.

     ‘Come on Sal, I’ve got just the thing,’ Willie says.

     He scoops up the poly bag he’s been trailing about all the day before, and helps me back down the hill to the path.

     ‘Wait here on me,’ he says.

     I wait. What daftness is he up tae now?

     He comes back hauling a wooden pallet we passed yesterday, propped against the bins at the top of the hill.

     ‘This is just the job,’ he says triumphantly.

     ‘What are you on about?’ I ask.

     ‘Come and ye’ll see. Ye’ll need to put yer boots on fer the next bit.’

     He leads me through a gate, and down a path through the undergrowth, until we reach a wall, beyond which, is a five-foot drop to the riverbank.

     ‘I’ve thought aboot this afore, but I couldnae work oot how we’d get back up again, watch this.’

     Willie lowers the pallet down to the river bank until it is propped against the wall, then he hoists himself onto it before helping me follow, we use the pallet slats like a ladder to get down to ground level.

     ‘First of all breakfast.’ He pulls out a handful of biscuit wrappers; each holds a single shortbread finger, where there had once been two.

     ‘Katya,’ I say.

     The sweet biscuits are my favourite, just perfect. Willie has befriended this Polish chambermaid fae the Caley Hotel. He used to doss in the graveyard opposite before he got moved on. She would chat to him when she left work. Now she sometimes gives him things from the rooms that are heading for the bin.

     We’re sitting on two boulders, and from this angle it’s as if we’re alone in the middle ae the countryside. A wee yellow bird flits between the stones, bobbing its tail up and down, above the rush of the noisy river.

     ‘This is braw.’

     ‘It’s mair than just braw,’ Willie replies, ‘it’s your personal spa.’

     Then he produces a couple of tiny cakes of soap from the bag.

     ‘Coz I’m afraid tae tell ye that yer feet are maukit.’

     I laugh but he’s right, my feet are disgusting.

     ‘Chuck me the soap then.’ Walking on all the wee jaggy stones isnae easy, I stick my arms out for balance like an aging and wobbly gymnast. The cold shock when I dip my foot in makes me shout.

     ‘It’s fucking freezing!’

     ‘Shoosh you, ye dinnae want tae wake oor posh neighbours.’

     The streets nearby on either side of the river, but out of sight from here, are some of the poshest and dearest in Edinburgh. My legs are soon clean but also numb. I decide to go the whole hog and pull off my jumper to scrub my face, neck and even my oxters.

     ‘I feel like one ae they Norwegians,’ I tell him, with a grin.

     ‘Whatever floats yer boat,’ he replies with a laugh, face all covered in soap.

     I have a lot of trouble, clambering back to the bank over the green slippery stones. I feel so clean and fresh, my boots now look even less attractive.

     ‘Gie me those, I’ll carry them.’

     Then Willie reaches into his bag and pulls out a pair of white hotel slippers.

     ‘You’re bloody brilliant,’ I tell him.

     Then we climb over the pallet and back up to the path. We sit on a bench beside the old millstones and polish off the rest of the biscuits, while we wait for my feet to dry off. For a while we’re just quiet together, with the birds and the noisy river, and the smell of trees and earth. Our life is often uncertain, sometimes even dangerous, but Willie’s taught me how to appreciate a lovely moment when it comes along. Most of my lovely moments are found outside like this, and usually delivered by him.

     Willie picks up the wrappers and passes me my boots.

     ‘Now that yer smelling like a lily, we’ll go down Stockbridge and find ye some better shoes fer the summer, there’s hunners ae charity shops down there and I ken a couple that’ll gie us a good deal. Oh, and I’ve got one mair trick.’

     He dives in his carrier again and tosses me a wee packet. ‘It’s one ae they free bags fae a plane.’ Inside is a toothbrush and paste, plus a pair of socks.

     I kiss his stubbly cheek, ‘I love you,’


Jane Anderson is a writer based in Edinburgh. This extract comes from her first novel, Love on the Streets, which was finished in early 2017. Jane is interested in authentic Scots rhythm, and explores human emotion as a backdrop to the terrible hardship of homelessness.

NON-FICTION: I say mam, you say mum: why we should love our regional accents

I recently packed some books and jumpers up in a backpack and a battered blue suitcase and moved to Glasgow from Newcastle, settling in a small one bed flat in Shawlands with my boyfriend and a violin. Other things too, of course, but it’s the boyfriend and the violin that I didn’t have in Newcastle. The decision to finally make the move was a bit of a whirlwind one, based upon crashing my car (‘Bernice’, my beloved Honda Jazz) on the M8 in the kind of motorway pileup you see on those police helicopter programmes.

Having lived in Newcastle for all 25 years of my life, I was beginning to wonder if I was ever going to leave. Friends returned home at Christmas from their respective locations across the country, their voices tinged with inflections from exotic places like Aberdeen and Plymouth. But not me. I was practically rooted to my North-eastern corner, like the monkey puzzle trees in the street on which I grew up, or a smaller, less bronzed Angel of the North. My aspirations to Euro-glamour in a beret and a Breton top were rendered embarrassingly false by the fact that underneath it all I was about as cosmopolitan as a stottie smeared in pease pudding. Now, without a car and faced with the prospect of trains between the two cities, it seemed like the right time to take a deep breath and jump.  

In the pub that night, the enormity of what I’d done began to hit me. People move cities all the time, of course. But with my customary tendency to construct momentous poignancy out of life events that other people might approach with a carefree spirit, I wondered how I’d look back on this time in years to come. My story would now forever be split into categories: before I moved to Glasgow, and after. Floundering about the bottom of my glass of whisky in a maelstrom of newness and fear, I was overcome by a sense that things were about to change for me. Big time.  

And I wasn’t wrong: there have been lots of initial changes and differences for me to get used to as I settle into a city that could comfortably swallow Newcastle whole and still have room for Middlesbrough. Fish suppers, police boxes, words like braw and dreich, being in possession of the foresight at all times to have the exact change for the bus driver. But the most notable has been the consistency of comments on my voice. I began to imagine that my Geordie accent now served as a constant badge of otherness. Ranging from mere observation, to barbs tinged with unexpected hostility (“you’re just a Scotsman with your head kicked in” being my favourite, which I think is meant to suggest that I don’t sound very intelligent, but, then again, I could be wrong) to be constantly reminded of the places that you have left behind when trying to start again gets tiresome, pretty quickly.

It’s not an experience limited to Newcastle ex-pats, of course. I’m sure it’s a recognisable situation for anyone with a broad accent, moving anywhere else with a particularly strong cultural identity, though the stereotypes will differ. But for me, the frequency with which it was mentioned – made into ‘a thing’ – came as a shock. Despite my Northumbrian cocoon, for a long time I was embarrassed by my Geordie accent. I asked my parents for elocution lessons when I was 15, and was almost laughed out the house. Later, though, I wished I’d been granted them: I would go to academic conferences and events and be painfully conscious that I sounded very different to the other speakers (“I just thought you might like to address your accent” said one female academic whose work I admired. “It’s just that it’s not very professional”). I tried, with a debatable degree of success, to soften my voice. I was trying to forget.

Part of what I’ve always perceived to be the problem is that a Newcastle brogue is such a recognisable accent that it renders the standard party question: “so where are you from?” useless. Before I’d had a chance to explain, preconceptions were made and narratives about me constructed, all in the time it took me to say ‘hello’. Then there are the negative connotations: the assumption of comparative poorness, less education, less intelligence: all obviously entirely unfounded but often brought up as if to be fact. I still sometimes think about my failed first attempt at university in Manchester, when a pilled-up lad in a headband declared that I was “more Beano and Dandy than The Times”. It was a dubious comparison, meant to imply that I didn’t sound ‘proper’, or clever, but in many ways, I’m pleased to say that yes, I am more Dandy than Times.

Now, with my move to Glasgow, I railed against these acknowledgements of accent, wondering why it even mattered, anyway, about where anyone is from, when the things that we get fired up about are clearly so much more important than the streets that we grew up on. I imagined some kind of republic of free accents, where we might cast off the shackles of association and roam, borderless amongst voices. Our voices would carry no importance, no implications about our personalities, because why should they? I’d never hear ‘Geordie Shore, aye?’ again, because everyone would understand accents to be as matterless as they surely were.

But, whisper it….. wouldn’t that be just a bit boring? Because after all this time I’m beginning, finally, not to care. Having worked my arse off thus far, the fact that I can attend an academic conference should be a given. That I can do so in the same accent as my Grandma once chatted to Peggy at the next sewing machine should be a given, too.

My accent is the product of killing myself laughing on the phone to my best friend as a 16 year old, of Christmas dinners with my grandparents, of drives out into the pine trees of Northumberland that I wished would go on forever and of propping up the bar down in the Ouseburn valley in my favourite pubs with old friends. It’s a part of all of that, but it’s not all. My voice is just one bit of who I am: I am lots of things, but my voice carries history, not connotations.

So as I continue to find my feet in my new city, I’m going to be quietly confident that my accent is not a sign of otherness, but only a part of my journey thus far that I should celebrate. We are, all of us, chattering away in voices that belong to us and us alone and we should be proud of that, celebrating the differences that, in fact, unite us.

And best of all is that I can now buy birthday cards that say ‘Happy Birthday Ma’. Which is one step closer to ‘mam’ than ‘mum’.


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Lyndsey Skinner is a Regular Contributor at WIFIE. She recently moved to Glasgow from the North East of England. Despite being a thoroughly bookish sort, she left a PhD programme in English Literature early, and is now spending her days working freelance for charities, writing, and avoiding the rain in the cafes of Shawlands. Lyndsey writes creative non-fiction, is working on a novel about the poet Philip Larkin, and was most recently shortlisted for the Anthony Burgess/Observer prize for new arts journalism. 

Interview: Sarah Tanat-Jones

Sarah Tanat-Jones is a WIFIE with many feathers to her cap. Previously singer/drummer in pop-punk three piece, Come On Gang! Sarah has since toured as Synaesthete, and is currently performing as Tanat (much easier to pronounce, I’m sure you’ll agree). Her debut album, Array was crowdfunded using Kickstarter, and includes a 16-page picture book, which she wrote, produced and illustrated. A member of professional network, WOMEN WHO DRAW! Sarah is no newcomer to increasing the visibility of women* in the Arts - you’ll likely recognise Sarah’s beautiful illustrations from The Guardian's Review, The Suffragette's and Why They Still Matter and The Guardian's Guide, Pop Goes Trump.

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You studied at ECA and had a stint in Glasgow - tell us, where are you based now, and what projects are you currently working on?

Hello! Thanks for speaking to me. Yes, I studied Visual Communication in Edinburgh, then moved to London where I started to get my illustration career up and running. It took a few years, during which I was working office jobs, playing in a band, moving a lot and learning new skills, like starting to get to grips with production. I was really impatient to get where I wanted to be at this time, but it takes a while to get all your ducks in a row. I got an illustration agent, quit the band, made an album on my own, moved around some more, travelled a bit and then wanted to start working on a new album. My room in London at this point was so small that I couldn't even fit a desk in to work on. I had had enough of being totally cramped so I moved to Glasgow where I had a big lovely flat all to myself. I made my new album there, and learned more about production (though I'm always trying to get better). I'm a really private person so it was lovely to be able to make noise and do whatever I wanted in the Glasgow flat without anyone to bother me. The album's ready now and I'm about to start getting gigs for 2017. I moved back to London to learn a bit about animation in a studio here. Currently I've got a few plates spinning: illustration, new songs, getting some gigs booked, learning to animate, organising my life a bit. I always want to read more and to travel. There's so much to do and not enough time.

Tell us about your mini series, Rituals

That was a self initiated project because I wanted my work to be sexier. I'd been doing a lot of editorial, colourful, slightly messy work and wanted to move more towards more grownup, sultrier stuff, at least for one project, to see how I handled it. Successful illustration is often sexy (quelle surprise) - either that, or the opposite, chintzy floral niceness, which I am not a fan of. But my work for Rituals still wasn't really overtly sexy. It was just intended to be closely cropped, carefully coloured images of women getting ready. An idealised view of what women do in private. The reality is probably, ironically, a lot messier than what I drew.

Who, what, where, inspires your work?

Lots of things inspire me, I'm a total history and architecture nerd so walking around London and Glasgow gives me so much inspiration. People watching sends me into hyperdrive, I've recently started an informal series called Londoners, which is pretty self explanatory, just drawing interesting people in cafes at the weekend. I love illustrators like Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden which a lot of people have rediscovered in recent years, but I also love new wave and post punk designers like Barney Bubbles. I like simple, colourful work, illustration is in a golden period at the moment, there's a lot of strong and beautiful work out there at the moment, but also a lot of mediocrity and copycats - I guess that's par for the course.

Music wise, I'm so inspired by all sort of choral music from around the world, especially Bulgarian and Georgian choirs. I love women who make all their own music and production, like Georgia who's on Domino, Empress Of, and Grimes and Bjork. I love beats and rhythm - Underworld especially for their interesting percussion. I love a lot of music. I'm inspired by so many things, sometimes it feels a bit overwhelming, but you have to process it and try to make something good out of it all. 

We heard you play a couple months ago at the Shelter, Home for the Holidays event. Tell us about the song you wrote Santa Someday for the Christmas Songbook.

Haha, that song was fun to make. I made it in my room, quite quickly. It was about wanting the one thing for Christmas that Santa can't fit into his sack - and that's LOVE. At the time, I was falling in love, and I was worried about how things would turn out*. I was thinking of Kirsty MacColl when I made it and I wanted it to be a little humorous but also sad, bittersweet like so many good pop songs are. (You can hear Santa Someday here )

(*It all turned out well.)

What's the best show you've ever played?

A festival in the middle of Ireland called Castlepalooza. It was raining, and I was playing in the only tent. My set was at 7pm on Saturday night - ie, everyone was hammered, but not TOO hammered. Plus, they were Irish, therefore very warm and friendly and up for fun. It was amazing. And the green room was a huge space with a chandelier in an old castle. Thanks for that, Ireland. 

Do you have any advice for young musicians and artists who are trying to get their work recognised?

I'm not the best at self promotion, and that's something I'm trying to work on. I will make stuff all day long and then refuse to show it or play it to anyone. 

I would say, just keep going, and do things that make you squirm - email people, tweet people, talk to someone standing at a bar at a gig, you might make friends and then who knows where it could lead. I've put on gig nights based on people I heard on the radio and then got in touch with. If you're like me, you need to get over your self consciousness cos no one else cares that much, what matters is putting good work into the world. Don't be lazy, finish things to the best standard that you can. And then just remember to remind people that you're out there. 

But I don't find it easy, especially in such a noisy world full of relentless self promotion.

Who is your favourite WIFIE?

I couldn't ever choose a single favourite creative woman. There are just so many incredible, strong, interesting women out there. And so many that I'll never find out about, doing their own thing in far off places. 

(Photos belong to Sarah Tanat-Jones)


Interview by Rachel Morgan-Bruce

LYRICS: Santa Someday

I looked all around the tree
There was nothing, nothing for me
Someday I’ll get what I need
Someday you’ll give it to me

I don’t care
About material things
Santa baby, I don’t need a ring
Love love
Is all I need
Next year
Please oh please

I want the things that come for free
I want to be kissed right next to the Christmas tree
I want to be wrapped up together in front of the TV
I want to given all the caramel Quality Street
By someone who loves me

Santa, why does this take so long? 
It can’t be that hard, when we’ve got overpopulation
Why won’t it happen to me? 
Please, please, leave it under my tree

ooh ooh ooh ooh
by someone who loves me

Santa, why does this take so long? 
Well it can’t be that hard, when we’ve got overpopulation
Why won’t it happen to me? 
Please, please, leave it under my tree

Love, love, is all I need
Next year, please oh please.


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Sarah Tanat-Jones is an illustrator, and musician. Growing up in Brighton, Sarah studied at Edinburgh College of Art, moved to Glasgow for a bit, and now lives in London. Inspired by choral folk music, Sarah wrote, recorded and produced her debut record using Kickstarter all on her own steam. Hear more tanat.co