My privilege to tutor a group of very able writers with varying degrees of experience this week.
Our aim was to allow ‘family treasures’ – not necessarily objects of great value’ – find a voice. We spent two hours working hard on different techniques: exploring the known lives and stories of the objects and dipping our toes into the fiction just beyond that.
The result is some fine pieces of work. My pleasure to post them for you here (without comments, just for the joy of reading them). If others come through I will add them too.
Thank you Margaret, Alex, Alastair, Janie, Carol, Glennis, Sheena, Helen, Rachel, Rebecca and Hazel-Ann for your hard work and enthusiastic response at the morning workshop and to the Ness Book Fest team for inviting me to host it.
Thank you too to the Netley Centre folks who took part in such an enjoyable workshop in the afternoon, too.
If anyone would like to attend a similar workshop (some techniques repeated) which will be focusing more on characterisation I will be taking part in Word on the Street Festival in Dingwall at 6pm on Friday 18th October in HighFlight bookshop – first come, first served, I am told!
All copyright remains with the author of each piece.
Over to you and again, well done.
Pedalling to Victory
A fictional account of how my grandfather, Peter Coupar, became Scottish Cycling Champion in 1926
by Carol I Walker
Peter and Joe Coupar never showed the slightest interest in becoming blacksmiths like their father and older brother. They were inclined to the view that horses were a drain on time and resources. Why, the brutes needed feeding, grooming, watering and cosseting in return for a fast gallop. Their bicycles, however, demanded no such attention, sitting ever ready, ever compliant and willing to eat up the miles of Forfarshire’s rural highways, giving few arguments and requiring little maintenance.
When the spoked rubber shod steeds had been hosed down and oiled, the young men pored over linen- backed maps and plotted their next adventure – the carses and glens of their homeland lay at their fingertips and even Dundee and beyond beckoned. Crossing the River Tay on the ‘Fifie’ ferry from Broughty Ferry to Tayport took them into the Kingdom of Fife.
The brothers were scunnered.
“Nae a’ it’s cracked up tae be”.
“Aye, nae King in sight.”
Some days they hurtled through Glamis, Meigle and on to Coupar Angus and down into Dundee. The bicycles birled to the click of gear and chain with little brake employed, such was the joy in speed. Yet when the Powrie Brae out of Dundee loured over them, steep and relentless, they ate up its challenge, urging each other to climb and pedal and climb.
“Come on ya big jessie,” Peter would shout at Joe.
And Joe would reply, “I’m on yer back wheel ya tattie heid. Canna leave me behind.”
And so a fierce rivalry blossomed with each brother vying to be the first – to be the first at the bottom of the hill, to be first at the top of the hill, to be the first to reach the next village, to be the first to arrive home. Each brother claimed he was the fastest cyclist, and their outings became more competitive. Friends and family assured each brother that they were surely the fastest, but the brothers were shrewd enough to know that familial peace in Coupar household lay behind such assurances.
One day, on returning from a sortie into Glen Clova, the brothers passed through the well set up town of Kirriemuir when Peter, a wheel in front of Joe, yelled and pulled on the brakes. In a flurry of dust and confusion Joe, red faced and spluttering, skidded to a halt beside him.
“Are ye wise man?” Joe demanded. “You nearly couped me o’er.”
Peter had stopped by Charles Lyon the Ironmongers’ shop and was pointing at a notice in the widow that read: “The Kirriemuir Agricultural Show” and further down amongst attractions such as ploughing matches and champion Clydesdale horse classes, Peter had read “Bicycle Races”.
“I’ll race you at the Kirrie Show.” he said pointing. “Then we’ll see wha’s the best!”
“You’re on!” Joe shouted back as he peddled off. “Beat ya home, dunderheid!”
Note: both Peter and Joe became champion cyclists in the years around 1926
THE HATBOX BELONGING TO LUCY ELLEN FOSTER
by Janie Thorburn
The misty reek of the railway station fills my nostrils. Coal smoke and creosote. The rain-streaked, smudgy window. I peer anxiously amongst the grey crowds and see the porter carelessly loading the motley collection of leather, canvas and wooden luggage aboard the train which will carry me to… I know not.
Take care! The familiar wooden hatbox, proudly burnished to a chestnut sheen, the lid modestly adorned with metal trim, contains precious snapshots of my life, at least as it was. It now announces its new destination. Paris.
The train heaves from the platform and I reflect on what I have left behind as the thoughts come spilling through my mind. The fresh, scented fields of barley and corn; the land stretching for acres providing both income and employment; the workhorses, Beauty and Sergeant. Farm Hall. The children, Thomas, Lucas, Margaret, Michael. Nanny for the younger two, the elder boys ploughing their own furrow. A comfortable, orderly, country life. Lucas Foster an educated man, a fine judge of hunters. Respectable and respected. Kind. Too kind perhaps.
The mingling thoughts of home are a gentle contrast to the puzzling, bustling scene in which I now am placed. ButI must put these thoughts aside and gather the fortitude to face my new ‘home’, meet my employer.
Safe from the grime of the journey my fingers close on the white, laundered gloves waiting in my pocket as, with apprehension, I ponder what challenges lie ahead for me.
Farmer’s wife, widow, soon to be Housekeeper. All that is familiar and secure lost through the kindness of my husband and the betrayal of a friend. We have known misfortune through the vagaries of weather and harvest but this is beyond that which I have faced alone.
Lucy Ellen Foster shall master the task with quiet dignity and courage, knowing that the bonnet, the lead soldier, the Bible, the child’s bracelet held within the sturdy hatbox provide the thread to all that is precious. A thread that will not be broken.
by Glennis McClemont
A ‘diamond’ wing sparkles, caught by the light, unfurls from a laurel wreath promising victory in a world at war… an almost unbelievable reprise from the one in the not too distant past.
The garland encloses the letters AG – Air Gunner. Count the ‘diamond’ feathers. Thirty, perhaps? A twinkle for every sortie made by a ‘Tail end Charlie’ in a Lancaster Bomber roaring over the North Sea enfolded in a blackness stabbed by trails of orange flak out to destroy. Ping! Ping! The fuselage is strafed. Forty years later the sound brings the Tail Gunner out of a deep sleep, sweating and trembling. The bedroom radiator makes the same sound. Ping! Ping!
It’s a lonely position, lying aft, separated from the rest of the crew in a claustrophobic, freezing space with only a covering of Perspex between now and eternity.
The Lancaster drops its lethal load and turns for the English coast, the crew inwardly willing the tower of Lincoln cathedral to appear.
Breakfast in the Mess. Bacon and eggs. The Gunner evades, cannot afford to engage the thought that Jimmy, his fellow Jock from Rutherglen was an empty place at the table this morning.
He thinks instead of Margaret. The sweetheart brooch is his pledge to her. She’s in Lanark with her family, she’s listening to every Radio News broadcast, knitting, knitting, smoking, drinking ersatz coffee, more knitting, more smoking, most of all she’s waiting, waiting….
CROFT HOUSE ETCHING
by Alastair Cunningham
This etching is a representation of a bothy on Scotland’s north west coast. The bothy is part of a hamlet of three once-homes that look over the sea towards the village of Lochinver. It is just a short and cruel gaze back across the bay to those richer lands on which these crofts’ inhabitants had been permitted to live until the time of their eviction during Sutherland’s clearances. It has always been an empty place, where ravens outnumber humans and sea eagles sometimes fly. There is nothing here to interrupt the milky way from its shining. The land is called Camas Coille, which translates as ‘bay of the wood’ – though until my time there had been no trees here for generations.
The etching is not a representation of what is there now. Since the copper plate was scratched in the early 1960s, the bothy has been repaired, the drystone wall rebuilt and a copse of trees planted. The etching shows a place in need of a loving that has since been lavished.
It is not a perfect representation of what was there when it was drawn. The hill behind has never been that steep. In reality, it is a whaleback hump of boulders left by receding ice.
I am not sure of the coastline across the sea either – though I have spent less time tramping those hills and so cannot be so definitive about their true profile. It is, however, a family treasure for what it purports to show.
It shows a building that had been vacated about twenty years previously, at the start of the 1940s: abandoned when life in this place with neither road nor boat access had become too hard and the last widow had left home for a new life in Lairg. As a mark of tough times, her husband had died from an infected boil and left her with four children and no income beyond the few vegetables grown on the croft. The land looks pretty barren to me but could apparently support strawberries in a good year. Good years were too rare, so she left. By the late 1950s the roof was caving and the floor a swamp of dead sheep. My father bought it and worked to stabilise the ruin. I spent a childhood of summers here: drinking of the vast skies, keeping the fires burning and playing my part in keeping the roof attached to the gables.
It is also treasured by me because of how it was made. My dad produced this work during an evening class printing: he was always annoyingly good with his hands. He died a decade ago and now his ashes are incorporated in the trees we planted. I think of his alder as the biggest most gnarled tree of the copse. But that is a son’s imagination more than a measurement.
by Alexandra Dold
I can almost feel how sore the foot was. After all, she must have been kneeling in an uncomfortable position for a long time. A position women nowadays would gladly sit in, as long as it’s called yoga and fits with their wannabe healthy lifestyle.
However, she didn’t do it gladly. She had been sitting on her knees with her foot outstretched like this for over five hours now. The floor had felt cold beneath her naked feet initially, but not any more.
She had no idea how it all would turn out; she was only a slave girl. All she knew was that the artist would not picture the crusty bits on her smelly feet, she was only the model.
The rich looking at the finished piece of art would never connect her to it.