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New Writing From Scottish Book Trust’s Writer Development Programme


New writing from Scottish Book Trust’s Writer Development Programme 2011/12


Copyright Š 2013 Scottish Book Trust. The authors retain sole copyright to their respective works. Cover photograph by Andre Nantel. Design by Stewart Bremner.

For further details about any of the writers in this collection please contact Claire Marchant-Collier, Writer Development Administrator at Scottish Book Trust E: claire.marchant-collier@scottishbooktrust.com T: 0131 524 0184

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Contents Introduction

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NEW WRITERS

Claire Askew Helen Godfrey Pippa Goldschmidt Katy McAulay Andrew Sclater Helen Sedgwick Erika Shorter Richard W. Strachan

2 12 22 32 44 54 62 72

Seonaidh Charity CairistĂŹona Stone

84 90

GAELIC WRITERS

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Thank you to Creative Scotland for supporting the Scottish Book Trust New Writers Awards

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Introduction Each year Scottish Book Trust works with a carefully selected group of writers who have yet to publish a novel or full collection of their work. They are given a bursary and offered mentoring by established writers, editors and agents, as well as performance training and advice on publicising their work. The writers we work with are all different, but each has shown talent and commitment and their work continues to delight and surprise us. In this sampler you will find poetry, short stories and novel extracts; writing inspired by science, children’s fiction, a dystopian novel and experimental fiction. From sinister cardinals to spiteful mermaids, there is something for everyone. We hope you enjoy meeting the Scottish Book Trust New Writers.

Caitrin Armstrong, Writer Development Manager, Scottish Book Trust

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’S e seo an treas bliadhna de sgeama brosnachaidh Duaisean nan Sgrìobhadairean Ùra, agus tha Comhairle nan Leabhraichean air ar dòigh a bhith ag obair còmhla ri Urras Leabhraichean na h-Alba. Faodaidh sinn a ràdh le cinnt nach cuir e iongnadh sam bith oirnn ged a nì an dithis a fhuair duaisean am-bliadhna, Cairistìona Stone agus Seonaidh Charity, fìor mhath ann an saoghal litreachas na Gàidhlig anns na bliadhnachan a tha romhainn.

John Storey, Ceannard Litreachais is Foillseachaidh, Comhairle nan Leabhraichean The Gaelic New Writers Awards are now in their third year, and the Gaelic Books Council is particularly pleased to continue our partnership with Scottish Book Trust. It is no exaggeration to suggest that this year’s awardees, Christine Stone and Seonaidh Charity, have the potential to contribute significantly to Scottish Gaelic literature in the years to come. It is exciting to be at the start of such a journey.

John Storey, Head of Literature and Publishing, The Gaelic Books Council

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CLAIRE ASKEW Claire Askew was born in 1986 and has been writing poetry for around a decade. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Edinburgh’s MSc in Creative Writing (Poetry) in 2009, and is still with the University, reading for a PhD in Creative Writing and Contemporary Poetry. Her research interests focus on feminist and counter-culture poetry. Claire’s own poems have appeared in numerous publications including The Guardian, PANK and Popshot. Her debut pamphlet collection, The Mermaid and the Sailors, was published by Red Squirrel Press in 2011 and poems from it were shortlisted for an Eric Gregory Award in both 2010 and 2012, and won the 2010 Virginia Warbey Poetry Prize. Claire also writes non-fiction and her writings on poetry and feminism have been published by The Scottish Review of Books, The Skinny and xoJane. She is a regular contributor to The Edinburgh Review. Claire also volunteers as a community champion for Scottish Women’s Aid, and works as a lecturer in Literature and Communication at Edinburgh College. She lives in Edinburgh with her partner and her ever-growing collection of manual typewriters. 2


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Peninsula A slash across the wash: weird rib, serif strip of stone, fingernail white. Its cliffs are thick with nests. Its caves promise mermaids. Of course there are mermaids. Their weedy purses wash ashore, tangled in the nests of kelp, the delicate ribs of creephorn, crusted white. Lost mouths full of stones. Tiny, sea-scraped stones like hail, like knuckles: mermaids’ vicious pearls. Watch for a white flash of neck, the wash and swirl in their tails’ wake, a ribbed fin. Eggs missing from nests, or sometimes the whole nest gone. They’re curious: the oval stones explode into noise and feathery ribs and slime. These are not the mermaids of your bedtime stories. They’re washed in rage: teething with white-hot,

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murderous spite. They scratch white scars into fishing boats, fling their earnest siren-songs across a night awash with spume. Wrecks scatter the stones, the eyes of all the mermaid figureheads gouged out. Between their ribs, impatient hearts seethe, ribcages like those wrecked hulls, white-flecked and warping. A mermaid lives for centuries, a lonely nest of bones, a crippled freak, stony with boredom. They come to this peninsula’s wash because the wash is quiet, the land’s long rib deserted: no children to throw stones. Just the huge white gulls, their easy young tucked into nests. These are the last mermaids of the world.

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Barcelona diptych i. Some people live like this streets filled with skinny trees flicking their spring pinks slim chic flats with lofty terracotta roofs every building unshuttered awake from a thin winter cool stripes of ironwork on the balcony’s hot tiles every sash thrown back and the curtains’ gauzy breath filling the room with fluid light sky tattered with spires fountains flamenco of traffic the starched skirts of umbrellas hitched for evening drinks

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every step swept every silver table a saucer of dusk and up this street the huge hewn church unfinished turning its many faces into the dark. ii. Some people live like this – in the racks of stacked-up, tacky beach apartments, among the Irish bars and stag-do tours, the sad, scuffed, late-night t-shirt shops, their I heart Barcelona tat, fat kids with sunburn and badges buying bad sombrero hats – old men out late on the main drag selling bird-whistles, knock-off designer bags and warm four-packs of beer, pashminas, fridge magnets, Catalan flags, everything misspelled and eager in their brown hands – their mouths open and close, they have no Spanish, speak no English, hate you with your clean face and good shoes – 6


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you give them nothing even though they glitter like fishes and speak in the language of birds.

Seefew steading Precarious longhouse: dislodged, shushing the night with the dead leaves of sixty winters. Back field lime-pit: grave of shot dogs, spina bifida lambs, victims of snap-leg and foot-rot; ghosts. One-way half-mile phone-box: clicking its tongue like a gramophone unspooled, an old shrew. Cow in the dark: foghorn, moose-call, harpy, heavy old banshee. Then nothing. And nothing. And the river. 7


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Hydra Everywhere you look is light so exquisite it hurts. Light off the taffeta sea, the brief white rips of wake and surf; light frosting the bleached houses’ sides wedding-cake perfect; light in the wires, in the cut pot roofs, light that’s one hundred per cent proof. Whitewashed island carefully dressed in light, bridal; hung with thick sheets of light like honeycombs, like dress shirts lightly starched and hung to dry. Yachts in the bite of the port, marshmallow white, confettiing armfuls of chopped light out into water clear and keen as ice. And over the flat-topped hill as night comes flirting on, the island saves its great lightshow for last. Ancient, many-headed light that warms the kilns of myth: clay red, bright pink, streaked ochre fingering the cloth of sky, the undersides of all the thin white clouds turned iris, mauve. And then the fine pale strings of windows flared like Christmas lights along the port; yachts flicker and go out, and high across the strait the pinprick warning lights flick one by one along the radar masts. Tonight, insomniac in unfamiliar heat, I’ll write in a journal under the moth-bothered kitchen light, this is the life. Mine is the lightest, easiest life. 8


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Privilege It’s knowing how much cash you can put on a horse without it mattering if you win. It’s winning, then giving a little to the man in the doorway round the side of the track, then telling everyone at dinner you gave it to him. It’s the noise they make when you finish the tale. It’s the cufflinks and the silverware, a waitress who smiles and takes your coat; it’s whether or not you acknowledge her, that choice. It’s dinner itself, not really worked for or worried about; the tip you chuck in the tray on your way out. It’s sitting in the window of a coffee shop, the sun painting bars across the wooden floor, the plain steel flip-top teapots shining, writing down ideas that are all yours. It’s walking out of there, blue notebook under your arm, into the lean summer afternoon without fear, and choosing which of those ideas you share, with whom. It’s in the way the off-licence cashier addresses you, his hazel eyes meeting your own, the fact he doesn’t follow you as you head through to where the better whisky sits lined up in amber jars. It’s in good food and decent schooling, knowing there is always more of either if you wanted it enough. It’s scraps of other languages you reel off sometimes to impress; the fact that your first tongue’s the one that worldwide, children sweat to learn, language all the biggest news is broken in. It’s the skin you wear each day with all its flaws, adornments; 9


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skin still taut and fine and pale as corset lace, desirable, your place on the massive, subtle swatch-chart you call race. It’s your limbs, their length and shape, the ground you cover easily, the measured stretch to catch the hard-stitched ball that’s thrown, your fingers maple-leafing out to fling it back. It’s the park where all of this is done, repeated; the quiet, clipped grass picked out with apples, and the landscaped trees the afternoon hangs in like chimes. It’s the streets you climb when you go home, the good stores with their shutters rolling down as lights blink on above your head in globes. And it’s the streets you do not take, the ones you do not have to walk, their leaky hearts and flick-knives that you’ve heard about, but never known. It’s home: four walls you pull around yourself again, again, no matter what the day has done; four walls you picked yourself and painted, hung with lamps and scraps and gems, your things. It’s things like this, and simpler: shoes, a bank account that bears your name, an obelisk of shelves with books inside that you know how to read, a fist of keys you didn’t steal, a passport never forged and not refused, a roll of coins. It’s in the almost pointless hunks of flesh that tell your sex; the bathroom door you know to pick without a thought. It’s a city you can move through, drunk or sober, clothed in almost anything, invisible, without the fuss of police or unmarked vans you might be pulled inside or yelled at from, or worse. It’s death, the one that you will someday get: the treatment first, a red and yellow moon-shaped pill you take for free, and hopefully a bed, well-wishers, only minor pain; a grave, a place to visit, watered, free of weeds. It’s all of these: 10


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these hair’s-breadth tricks of fortune, birth and place. Think of it like the line of lucky lotto balls you play each week. So stupid. Senseless, random. Begging always to be checked.

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HELEN GODFREY Helen Godfrey spent many happy childhood hours staring into space, making up stories in her head. She never wrote any of them down. She’s not sure why. It was the Eighties; times were bleak. Perhaps there was a paper shortage. In the Nineties, she did a BA (Hons) at Dartington College of Arts and an MA at Goldsmiths, both in Performance. After ten years of being an actor, she decided to write a one-woman show, about an upper-class sock puppet desperate to publish his insufferable poetry. Writing it was a joy as, once again, she got to use her brain for imagining stuff while looking gormlessly into the far distance. On stage, this is not generally allowed – unless you happen to be playing Ophelia. After the show, she started writing prose; mostly stories for children and teens. She is currently working on a fantasy novel for the 10-12 age group, set in an alternative Restoration London, about a serving girl who disguises herself as a boy to work with the animals at the King’s Magical Menagerie. Her nephew is waiting to read it, impatiently. 12


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Extract from novel

New Eden

D

ear Birthday Fairy, please can I have a never-ending jar of

cocoa powder, enough to make a cake every Sunday of the year. I opened my eyes, and breathed in the smell of candle smoke and chocolate. I knew there was no point asking for world peace, or for the Cardinal to set Dad free, or even for an end to rationing: I’d tried them all over the past six years, and nothing ever happened. Either the Birthday Fairy didn’t exist, or she only granted fairy-sized wishes. Still, if she could manage the cocoa, I’d forgive her anything. Dad smiled at me from the other side of the table, his face pale above the fifteen candles. My brother, Sam, only had eyes for the cake. I plonked a wedge on his plate. ‘First slice for the hungry cadet.’ Sam set about his cake like a half-starved man. During his visits, he barely spoke until he’d crammed down more food than I could eat in a

day. He said the meals they served at the Mess Hall were disgusting, which I thought served him right. That’s what you got for joining the Cardinal’s Guard. I walked round the table with Dad’s cake. ‘Second slice to the brains of the outfit.’ ‘Thanks, Phoebe, love,’ he said. ‘And Happy Birthday!’ 13


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Half of Sam’s cake had already disappeared. He blushed and mumbled through a mouthful of food. ‘Oh yeah, Happy Birthday.’ I sat down to eat my cake, but before I could take a bite, the doorbell rang. My stomach gave a seasick-y heave. Only two people ever called at our house: Cardinal Isaac, and his son, Ira. Sam jumped up from the table, smoothing down his hair, rushing to be the one to welcome in the Honoured Guests. I couldn’t help thinking, once again, that Sam was a little bit thick. I moved to Dad’s side and waited. The sounds of the men advanced along our hallway; Dad shrank further into his wheelchair. Cardinal Isaac entered the room, scarlet cloak swirling round his feet, arrogance streaming off him in waves. Dad and I bowed our heads and chanted the official greeting. ‘Blessed is the Lord.’ ‘For he is the Almighty,’ said the Cardinal, ‘the Knower of all things.’ He spoke that reply about a hundred times a day, but that didn’t stop him from breathing a whole universe of light and dark into it, every single time. People listened to his voice – musical, and as rich as goose fat – and said it could only come from God. But people are idiots. He was just a man. A man who should’ve been the world’s greatest actor – but instead, took over a country and ground it into dust. He crossed the room in three strides and sat at the empty place at our table. The place where my mother should’ve been sitting. Ira moved forward to stand in front of me. ‘Miss Phoebe.’ I bobbed my head. ‘Master Ira.’ He held out his hand; I shook it. His skin felt clammy. ‘Happy Birthday.’ ‘Thank you.’ ‘I see you’re having cake.’ ‘Um… yes.’ 14


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He flourished a bottle of wine. ‘I brought this to help you celebrate.’ ‘Oh. Thank you.’ I couldn’t remember the last time he’d been so polite for so long. I gritted my teeth and served two portions of cake for Ira and the Cardinal. I’d saved up our coupons for a whole month for the sugar and cocoa alone, and now there was only one piece left. Never in a million years could I have saved up enough for the wine, but that wasn’t the point. I didn’t even like wine. Ira helped himself to my chair; I stood by the sink to eat. Dad was murmuring to the Cardinal, looking vaguely worried. My brother and Ira drank the wine and gossiped about army stuff. Sam’s hero-worship had cranked up a notch when he first saw Ira fight, in training. Apparently, no one could beat him at hand-to-hand combat; no one could outdo him at sharpshooting. If you asked me, training one of the most unpleasant people on the planet into an unstoppable fighting machine was a bad idea. Right after the three pm scan, Cardinal Isaac and Dad disappeared into the workshop. Ira reached for the last piece of cake. I bit my tongue and started piling plates into the sink for the washing up. Ira pushed up from the table. ‘Right. Let’s all go for a walk.’ ‘You two go ahead,’ I said, waving him and Sam away. ‘I should clean up.’ He narrowed his eyes. ‘Don’t you have a houseboy for that?’ ‘Yes, but…’ I had to be careful. Ira was the kind of person who’d have a houseboy whipped for shirking. ‘I gave him the day off because his mother’s sick.’ Ira frowned. Try again, Phoebe. ‘And I didn’t want him under our feet on my birthday. So I told him to do a double shift tomorrow instead.’ His eyebrows relaxed. ‘So leave it for him. You have to be firm 15


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with Cat Fours. If you let them get idle, you can’t get them back to good habits.’ He always talked like that, as though Category Fours were livestock instead of people; people the same in every way as the ruling Cat Ones. The only difference was that they’d been born in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Alongside their own jobs, Cat Fours had to do three hours of daily Voluntary Service, in return for the citizenship that Ones and Twos got for nothing. It was always menial, and there was nothing voluntary about it. Cat Fours who refused their Voluntaries were executed. Ira strode to the door. ‘Dry your hands and let’s go.’ He’d have a heart attack if he knew that I did all the housework. The houseboy did nothing; I wouldn’t let him. Zeke worked ten-hour factory shifts, six days a week, to pay his family’s rent. And Zeke was my friend. Ira led the way. Down our street, past my school, along the main road. Sam trotted alongside and prattled away with army talk. I trailed behind, squinting through the sunshine, counting the minutes, wondering what Ira was playing at. We arrived at the main town gate: two massive freight doors in the vast wall of reinforced steel that circled the town. I breathed a sigh of relief. This would be where we turned around and went home. Even a Cat One wrist-tag didn’t let you outside the town walls, unless you had clearance, which I definitely didn’t have. My brother, a seventeen-yearold recruit, surely didn’t have it either. But instead of swerving away from the wall, Ira marched right up to a person-sized door set into the gate. He held the back of his wrist to a scanner on the door handle; a green light switched on, with a click. He was only a year older than my brother – but, it wasn’t a massive surprise that the son of the man in charge got free passage to everywhere. 16


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Ira looked at me. ‘Stand by this door. You’re next.’ ‘My wrist-tag won’t open that.’ He walked through. The door clanked shut; the light shone red and blinked out. I didn’t understand what Ira expected me to do. The door opened again. ‘Catch this,’ Ira said, from the other side of the wall, ‘and let the door shut. Wait ‘til the red light goes out before you scan through – or the system will think you’re a tailgater. See that gun-port?’ He pointed to a metal box on top of the gate. I nodded. ‘That will shoot you if you do it wrong. So don’t do it wrong.’ I was still confused. He threw something, which I caught as the door shut him from view. I looked down at my hand and couldn’t quite believe what I was holding. It was a wrist-tag. Ira’s wrist-tag. A fully detachable wrist-tag. I didn’t know they existed. On his arm, it had always looked like the standard silver bracelet, wrapped snugly round his wrist, exactly the same as mine. But my bracelet was locked into the tagport embedded into the skin of my forearm. Ira’s was obviously… not. What else did he have that the rest of us could only dream of? ‘The red light’s gone out,’ said Sam. I pressed the tag down onto the scanner and pushed the door open, my heart pounding. From the moment I arrived in the town of Sacred Heart as a kid, I’d never stepped outside its walls. Not once. The door clanged shut behind me. My eyes found Ira’s left arm. It was completely smooth; no sign of a tagport. I dropped the wrist-tag into his palm and took in the view. Sacred Heart was built on the coast, set back from the edge of fiftymetre-high cliffs. Seeing the pictures in Geography lessons was one thing; seeing it in front of me was something else. Below us, and off to one side, there was a harbour, a pretty bay, and miles of beautiful coastline. But better than that, much better, was the ocean. It stretched 17


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away, as far as I could see – further, because I knew it carried on past the horizon – on and on, into the distance. It was just so big. It made me feel like anything was possible. ‘Amazing, isn’t it?’ said Ira. ‘Yeah, amazing.’ I could taste the salt tang of the sea. ‘To think my father built all this in twenty years.’ I turned and followed Ira’s eyeline. He was looking down at the harbour. That’s not amazing, I wanted to say, that’s Cat Four slave labour. ‘Could we let my brother in, please?’ I said, instead. Single girls were supposed to be chaperoned, and my escort was on the other side of the gate. Ira tossed the wrist-tag high into the air and caught it again. ‘Hmmn. Shall we let your brother in? Or leave him to stew? We could go exploring.’ ‘Please, Master Ira. It’s not right for us to be alone.’ I actually thought most of New Eden’s rules on behaviour were laughable – but Ira didn’t need to know that. ‘I won’t tell, if you won’t.’ ‘Please, I need a chaperone.’ He looked irritated, but handed me the wrist-tag. ‘Fine. Let your damn brother in, then.’ I opened the gate and threw the tag to Sam. He bounded through, like a foolish puppy, excited out of his mind at the thought of Ira’s Mystery Tour. I suppose one of us had to be. All I wanted was to go home, but I followed after Ira, down the wide road that curved off the headland to the harbour below. He led us along the docks, on to the edge of the sandy bay, and stepped down onto the beach. ‘Walk along the sand with me, Miss Phoebe. I need a private word.’ Sure, if I can push you in the sea and hold your head under. Ira turned to Sam. ‘Go and wait for us…’ His eyes cast around, 18


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looking for a suitable spot. ‘… Over there. On that rock. We’ll come back when we’re finished.’ He strode off in the opposite direction, not looking back. Sam grabbed my shirt. ‘What’s going on?’ he said, under his breath. ‘How should I know? Just don’t let me out of your sight, even if you have to disobey orders and step away from your rock.’ I followed after Ira. Halfway along the beach, he stopped. ‘I thought you’d like it here.’ That wrong-footed me. ‘Oh, um, I do. It’s beautiful.’ And it was. He looked at me, in silence, as though he was waiting for me to say something more. ‘It’s the first time I’ve been on a beach. Or maybe I had before we…’ I cut myself off. Bringing up his father kidnapping my family wasn’t a good idea. Ira didn’t seem to notice. ‘Okay. Good. I’ve got a birthday present for you. Close your eyes and hold out your hands.’ He’d never bought me a present before and I didn’t want him to start now, but I did as he said. Something small and light dropped into my palm. ‘You can look.’ It was a ring. Why would Ira give me a ring? ‘Well?’ he said. ‘It’s a ring.’ ‘Yes, I know,’ he said, as though he was talking to an idiot. ‘You come of age next year. Father’s agreed that I can marry you.’ No, no, no, this couldn’t be real. Why would Ira want me, when he had his pick of every female in the country? ‘It’ll be on your sixteenth birthday. A year today.’ I stared at the ring. I wanted to fling it in the sea, or better still, fling myself in sea. If only he’d let me do it, and wouldn’t just drag me out and dry me off and keep me under lock and key ‘til next September. 19


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‘Try it on, then.’ I put it on. ‘It fits.’ He sounded pleased. I wasn’t pleased, not at all. What about my dad, what about school, what about Zeke, what about me? ‘We”ll live in Edenvale. I’ve bought us a house.’ The capital, Edenvale, was on the far side of the country, nestled under the mountains, a thousand miles away from Sacred Heart. I wrenched my head up to meet his eyes. ‘I can’t get married!’ ‘Why not?’ ‘Because, I can’t move, because of my father and, and, because of school.’ He laughed. ‘School? I couldn’t wait to be out of it. You’ll be finished with it next year, anyway.’ ‘No, I was going to go to Sec Tech to do a translation course, because – because I want to do something useful for New Eden…’ I had thought I’d train as a translation secretary, but not because I cared about New Eden; because it was the only higher exam deemed respectable study for a (Discretionary) Cat One girl. Past that, my plans for the future were a vague hope to escape, somehow taking Dad with me. Sam was a lost cause. ‘Fine,’ Ira said. ‘Have a private tutor. You can make yourself useful by translating for me.’ I changed tack. ‘There must be someone better than me. I’m not even proper Cat One.’ He snorted. ‘So? Once you marry me, it won’t matter what you are. And real Cat One girls are too much like hard work, or else they look like the back end of a dog. But you – well, you’re decentlooking, your school records say you’re not stupid, and, best of all, you keep your head down and you do as you’re told. So I choose you.’ 20


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This is Dad’s fault. He’s always drilling me to keep my mouth shut, to pretend to be a model citizen. Now look what’s happened. My head swam. Ira, the boy who had been a regular visitor throughout my childhood, who had spent half of those visits forcing me into stupid humiliating games, expected me to marry him. For all sorts of romantic reasons, like I happened to be genetically suitable in the brains and looks department. At least he wasn’t declaring undying love for me. Ugh. That would have made me physically hurl. Ira stepped closer and picked up my left hand. ‘You know,’ he said, holding the ring up to my face, ‘this cost more than your entire neighbourhood. A little gratitude would be nice…’ He went in for a kiss. I turned my face and it landed on my cheek. ‘Please, Master Ira, this isn’t right. We shouldn’t be alone.’ Mostly because you make me feel sick. ‘We’re not alone – your damn brother’s over there!’ he said, but he let me go. I checked my wrist-tag. Three-forty pm. Twenty minutes to get back home. I looked across the sand to the glinting wall of steel on the headland. ‘I have to get back for the scan. So does Sam.’ Ira took my hand and pulled me back across the beach. Sam leapt up as we drew level, and looked in alarm at my limp hand grasped in Ira’s. ‘We’re heading back.’ Ira said, without stopping. ‘Your sister and I are engaged.’

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PIPPA GOLDSCHMIDT Pippa is a graduate of the MLitt course in Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow. She used to be an astronomer and much of her writing is inspired by science. She has been a writer-in-residence at the ESRC Genomics Forum at the University of Edinburgh, and also at the Wigtown Book Festival. Her short stories and poems have been published in a variety of magazines and anthologies including Gutter, Lablit, New Writing Scotland, the Human Genre Project, and Leaf Books. She’s given readings of her work at West Port, Linlithgow and Edinburgh International Book Festivals. She’s also spoken about the links between literature and science at a variety of festivals and conferences, such as the Edinburgh Science Festival, the National Astronomy Meeting, the Royal Observatory Greenwich and the British Science Association. Pippa’s novel The Falling Sky about an astronomer who thinks she’s found evidence contradicting the Big Bang theory, leading to her personal and professional downfall, was a finalist in the Dundee International Book Prize 2012 and will be published by Freight Books in 2013. She’s currently working on a collection of short stories that examine aspects of science including the erotic possibilities of Einstein’s thought experiments, European astronomers working in Chile during martial law, the genetic profile of selkies, a disgruntled computer scientist inadvertently diagnosing her own cancer, and suffragettes bombing the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh. Website: www.pippagoldschmidt.co.uk 22


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Introduction to relativity 14-week course. Some experience of maths required.

Week 1 You’re in the front row of the lecture theatre listening to the lecturer. ‘Alice is travelling on the train, flashing her torch at Bob who is standing on the station platform.’ You haven’t had this lecturer before, he must be new. You shift in your seat and sure enough, he looks at you. There is a minute pause, the merest stutter in his words that is undetectable to anyone else, as you watch him analyse the geometry of your blouse. You wonder whether Alice regularly rides around on trains flashing her torch at men. You picture her in a plastic mac and high-heeled boots. You wonder what Bob gets out of this arrangement, perhaps he fancies Alice. ‘Alice sees the torchlight expand equally in all directions, hitting the front and back of the train at the same time.’ The other students are writing this down in their notebooks. You doodle a heart on the cover of yours, and consider undoing another button on your blouse. ‘But Bob sees the light strike the back of the train before the front. Can anyone tell me who is right? Alice or Bob?’ Silence. You glance at the other students before putting up your hand, and he nods at you to speak. ‘They’re both right. From Bob’s point of view the back of the train has travelled towards the light and the front has travelled away from it. So he sees the light reach the back of the train before it reaches the front. But Alice is travelling with the train and to her the front and back of the 23


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train aren’t moving. So for her, the light strikes the front and back at the same time.’ You pause. ‘They’re both right,’ you repeat. He nods again before continuing, ‘The speed of light is a constant, and that leads to different versions of reality. All are equally valid.’ You like this. Brusque and efficient. You continue to doodle hearts as he lectures.

Week 2 You feel a bit sorry for Bob. He never goes anywhere, just stands around on station platforms waiting for Alice to communicate with him. She gets all the fun. You’ve noticed that the other students write down everything the lecturer says, but they can’t answer any of his questions. You don’t need to write anything down. You’ve done all this stuff before. You like the way he looks at you now when he asks a question, as if he expects something from you. His wedding ring glints in the artificial light of the lecture theatre. You stroke the buttons on your blouse.

Week 3 Alice is in a lift, plummeting to Earth. The lecturer says she doesn’t feel anything as she falls, not even gravity, but you’re pretty sure she might feel terrified. Bob is probably still waiting for her on a platform somewhere, wondering where she is. Poor, faithful Bob. What an idiot. There are fewer students now. This always happens at this point in the course. They can’t take it. The extrapolation from the everyday stuff; the clocks, trains and torches, to the imaginary; inertial forces, curved space-time, and the vacuum. You’re used to it. You can cope. At the end of the lecture, when the other students are shuffling out, 24


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the lecturer walks over to you. You cover the front of your notebook so he can’t see the hearts. ‘You never write anything down.’ Again, that brusqueness. ‘I don’t need to,’ and you smile and walk off.

Week 4 You’re given coursework; ‘Quantify Newton’s error in his derivation of Mercury’s orbit around the Sun, and show how Einstein was able to correct this error in the context of general relativity.’ This is standard textbook stuff. You’re almost disappointed that the lecturer appears to show such little imagination. You hope he’s more imaginative in other aspects of his life. You email the answer to him and you don’t have to wait long for his reply. He wants to see you, in his office. It’s taken a week longer than usual, but that doesn’t matter. There’s still plenty of time. You’ve been to the office before, when the last lecturer had it. This one’s rearranged the furniture, but the rug’s in the same place. You remember the rug. ‘There is a practical element to the coursework,’ he tells you. ‘You must choose an experiment and I need to approve it.’ You suggest a quick, straightforward experiment, one that you and he can carry out on the floor of the office. He agrees.

Week 5 Alice is now in a spaceship, travelling around the Universe at almost the speed of light while, as usual, Bob waits for her back at home. You suspect Bob doesn’t look so hot now, with all that waiting around for Alice and worrying about her. ‘Who can explain why Bob ages faster than Alice?’ He’s wearing a nice shirt today, crisp and ironed, presumably by his wife. You imagine 25


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running your hands up his arms, along the ridge of his shoulders and down his chest, feeling the heat of his body. There are only three other students in the lecture hall today. The lecturer waits for you to answer, but you stay silent. You don’t see why you should do all the work.

Week 6 You suggest to the lecturer that your experiment should be repeated, to make sure you can get the same result as before. He agrees. Afterwards, in the lecture theatre, his shirt looks a little crumpled. Space-time has been compressed by your experiment. The lecturer is standing in front of the white board, picking his way along an equation, and he’s also lying stretched out on the rug, a sheen of sweat still visible on his stomach. The experiment starts to be repeated regularly, sometimes twice a day. In his office, he shuts the door behind you and tips your head back to kiss your throat.

Week 7 The lecturer introduces Carol to Bob and Alice. Carol is more adventurous than either of them. She falls into black holes, where she gets stretched into string by warped space-time, and becomes cut off from the rest of the Universe. As she sends out a last message before she sinks below the event horizon, Bob and Alice see a static vision of her, forever poised above it. You can also see her. She’s wearing your favourite jeans, the ones the lecturer ripped in his hurry to get them off you. You’re wearing them again today, in spite of the tear in the fabric. You’re hoping he’ll notice them and remember. 26


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Week 8 The lecturer deviates from the course material and talks about dark matter. You can picture it slipping around the Universe, fastening itself to discrete objects. You already know how quick it is to react to certain forces, such as the proximity of a hand, or the unbuttoning of a blouse. ‘Dark matter fills the Universe,’ he tells you and the other students. ‘It doesn’t interact with light, only with mass.’ You trace a spiral with your finger on the desk; thinking about the slow, sweet curve of bodies as they orbit around each other, before falling inwards. But his wedding ring is gold, and although it’s soft enough to show your teeth marks, it will last until the Earth and Moon finally plunge into the Sun.

Week 9 His wife is pregnant. He shows you the scan of the baby, its head arched in profile as if already searching the starless space around it for answers. Now, you don’t know what to say. Now, as he pulls you towards him to get at your throat, you wonder what will happen in the future. You’re not used to thinking like this. These courses are completely predictable. That’s the best thing about them. The next piece of coursework is about mass and its dependence on speed. As objects travel faster, they get heavier. You think that maybe Bob won’t find Alice so attractive now that she’s getting heavier and her ankles are fat. Your calculation shows that he should always prefer Carol, but you get the answer wrong. This is the first time this has happened to you. You question the lecturer about it, but he’s able to show a mistake in your logic.

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Week 10 This week he’s onto entropy, and the growth of disorder and decay as time moves from the past to the future. This contradicts relativity, which doesn’t depend on time. You hoped relativity would win out over entropy, but you know what entropy is now. Now, after each experiment, he picks the fluff from the rug off his clothes, smoothes his hair, and sniffs himself before he sends you out of his office. He has work to do; other courses to write. You find it difficult to concentrate on your own work. You are not sure what else to do apart from the experiment. You thought that would be enough for this course.

Week 11 The next deviation occurs. He talks about calculating the orbits of bodies. A two-body problem is analytical. Once the initial conditions are known, the entire future of the orbit is known. But if there are three bodies, the system becomes uncertain. The effect of any perturbation on this system, however tiny, can’t be predicted in advance. It can only be observed. You check through your notes. You don’t know this material, previous courses haven’t covered it. He shouldn’t be talking about it. When you are both lying on the rug in his office, you ask him why he is making changes. His shirt and trousers are still open, but his skin reveals nothing. ‘Nothing stays the same,’ he says finally. He stares straight ahead when he speaks, not looking at you. ‘Nothing should stay the same.’ Clocks, trains and torches are always there. Carol, Bob and Alice are always there. You lean over to touch him, but all you can reach are his fingertips.

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Week 12 Entropy means that things change, orbits decay. Planets spiral into stars and are annihilated. As they do so, they send out gravitational waves; beacons of distress emitted across the Universe. He doesn’t have much time any more, so the experiment is stripped down to the essentials. He doesn’t bother with your throat. ‘Is this happening at the same time?’ you ask, afterwards. ‘The same time as what?’ At the same time for both of us, you think, but there is no point in saying it, not now. You should have said it before, at the beginning, when he did have time. ‘I have to go,’ he says, and he hands you your bra as if he doesn’t want to see your breasts any more. You feel like weeping. You consider refusing to accept it, abandoning it here as definitive evidence. Now that there is a past to this, and maybe not a future, you want someone else to see your bra hanging from his chair, and know what has happened here. You’re not the observer of this experiment any more. Perhaps you never were.

Week 13 Bob has surprised everyone and bought a motorbike. It’s his turn to accelerate to the speed of light. Alice isn’t allowed to join him. As he roars along the motorway the light he emits settles into a sort of cloud around him, shielding him from everything else in the Universe, even Carol. When you walk along the corridor to the lecturer’s office, the door is shut. He’s either not there, or he is there. You don’t know which is worse.

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Week 14 The lecturer puts his notes into his briefcase, and leaves without looking at you. The course is over and the only other student is asleep at the far end of the lecture theatre. All you can do is follow the lecturer to his office. He has told you that you must keep a certain distance as you walk behind him, and that nobody must see as you follow him inside. You must not disturb anything, apart from yourself. Those are the rules of this experiment.

Week 15 You sign up for a different course next term. You hope the next lecturer will be pleased at your understanding of the subject. You hope your coursework will be satisfactory.

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KATY MCAULAY Katy McAulay was born in Edinburgh in 1981. She lives in Glasgow, where she’s worked as a journalist, copywriter and professional taiko drummer. Currently, she’s writing a novel set in the city’s Kelvingrove Museum. A former writer-in-residence at Cove Park (Scotland) and the MacDowell Colony (USA), Katy explores truth and fiction in many forms. Her short stories have featured in anthologies published by Luath Press, Cargo and Leaf Books, as well as on BBC Radio 4. Her short film, Floating is Easy, premiered at Palm Springs International Short Film Festival in 2009 and is available online via the BBC Film Network. In 2011, she wrote and directed her first piece of audio drama, Red Man, for Edinburgh’s innovative virtual festival, (g)Host City. Most recently, she’s been shortlisted for the Wasafiri New Writing Prize 2011 and longlisted for the Mslexia Novel Competition 2012. 32


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Heist

I

was twenty-two and I had studied for a degree. My topic

was English Literature and History: four years spent cramming Shake-

speare and ideology and the ways in which American naval legislation changed between 1919 and 1929. There was more to it, of course. I was an analyser. I’ve always been an analyser. I had a room rented in Glasgow and a skirt suit from Marks and Spencer, and now I was to find a career: to make some money, and to have some safety, and some esteem. I didn’t think it would be difficult – two weeks after my last university exam, I’d already completed more than twenty job applications – but when the first letter of response dropped onto my doormat I discovered that sliding my finger under the seal and breaking the envelope apart was not entirely pleasant. ‘Unfortunately, you have not been selected for interview.’ There was no reason given. Turning the page over in my hands as if I hoped that there might be something on the reverse, something else to say, I felt a quiet kick in my lungs. It was regret perhaps, or embarrassment that I had thought myself worthy and someone else had decided otherwise. By the fifth letter, the feeling had grown into more of a plum33


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meting sensation, a brief, nasty fall. By the tenth, shame had set in, and by the fifteenth, I’d developed a habit of absorbing the letter as a whole, rather than reading it properly. The skill was similar to looking at one of those magic eye pictures that transforms into a three-dimensional image. The page would remain blurry and my eye would pick out a single word, or sentence. ‘Unsuccessful’ perhaps, or ‘due to the high number of applicants’. These were all I needed to see before I would fold the paper and reinsert it within its cheap, white envelope. A precarious tower of these letters grew on the hallway table, beside the telephone and a pile of bank statements. My overdraft was nearing its limit. This toxic pile of documents was one of the reasons why, when my exam results were published and my parents arrived to take me to lunch on the day of my graduation ceremony, I didn’t invite them in. The ceremony was an impressive affair: the proud, sweating fathers and the careful way the mothers circulated the cloisters wearing painful, unfamiliar dress shoes; a thousand indentations on the lawns caused by a thousand kitten heels; the neo-gothic bell tower chiming the appointed hour; the ceremonial mace carried by the Bedellus. Inside the great hall, glossy brochures had been laid on each of the seats – a memento to take home and treasure – and rows of undergraduates were taking their places, identical in billowing black gowns. There were three hundred in my class alone and because we were called to the platform alphabetically, I didn’t know the people seated to either side of me. It seemed late to start making acquaintances. Instead I remained silent, watching the Principal tap a purple cushion on the heads of a flock of Philosophy students, one by one. I collected my scroll and my parents took me to lunch and I kept 34


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the expression on my face cheerful as we drank our complimentary champagne, but in the weeks afterwards, nothing came of the letters I sent asking for work experience. I did have one stilted interview for a position as a ‘credit controller’, which I didn’t realise was another term for ‘debt collector’ until ten minutes into the conversation. By this time, I felt too embarrassed to mention that I didn’t want the job. The next day they called to turn me down. My friends recommended the dole, but I wanted to work, I had too much hope in me yet, too much of a sense of gravitas, and I didn’t want to let anyone down. I signed up to be an Office Angel. The tests I completed highlighted my inadequacies with numbers, the amateur nature with which I approached spreadsheets, my inability to audio type. Mustering what other angelic qualities I could, I called the agency office every morning for a month, reiterating my availability and my eagerness, until finally, they assigned me a role counting money for a bank. The first day, I reported to a vast building on the edge of George Square. Inside there was seventies décor, a superfluity of rubber bands and everywhere, locked doors. The receptionist allocated me a badge to wear around my neck. If I wanted to open a door inside the building, I was instructed to wave this badge in front of an electronic reader in order to prove my eligibility to enter. The secondary function of the badge was to inform anyone who wanted to know about my status. TEMPORARY, it said. I was directed to report to the second floor counting room and ask for Patsy. When the lift spat me out, I found myself in a hallway with five exits, and all of them were locked. Remembering the badge, I located the first electronic reader and flourished the thing in front of it. A light flickered red in response. NO ENTRY. I tried the next door, and the next. I tried all five, but none of them deemed my security badge sufficient guarantee of my character to grant me access. Embarrassed, I 35


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knocked weakly for a while, but no-one came. Briefly, I considered a fire escape, but in the end, I decided to retreat the way I had come. When I re-emerged on the ground floor, looking lost, the receptionist scowled. ‘Sorry,’ I said. ‘I think my badge is broken.’ She appeared incredulous. ‘I tried, but none of the doors would open.’ ‘Fine.’ She sighed. ‘I’ll take you.’ I followed her orthopaedic sandals up the stairwell. My own shoes were pointed and black, purchased six months previously for my Nan’s funeral, and they pinched. When we reached the counting room, the receptionist took my defunct badge and skimmed it past the reader. The light flashed green immediately and she turned to me, smug. ‘You’ll find Patsy in the back.’ I apologised again. ‘I swear it didn’t work before.’ The door slammed behind her.

The counting room was busy and it stank. The odour reminded me of emptying my piggy bank as a child: metal mixed with sweat. Rows of people were perched on stools, feeding handfuls of money into machines that deposited it out again in measured batches. The machines whirred and beeped, Radio Clyde competing against the muttered conversation of the workers, and I saw their jeans and tshirts as I walked past them, my high-heeled shoes clacking off the linoleum, and I cursed myself for wearing the skirt suit from Marks and Spencer. The next part happened quickly. Patsy allocated me a locker for storing my things and I balled up my suit jacket and shut it out of sight. I borrowed a rubber band to tie my hair back. There was nothing I could do about the skirt. 36


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When I was ready, a halt was called to the counting and I was made to stand on one of the stools. Someone cut the radio so that Patsy could introduce me. ‘This is Molly,’ she said. I looked down to see her smirking. ‘Molly… has got a degree.’

It was decided that Don would train me. He was in his forties: smoker’s breath, muddy boots and a habit of scratching at his head with vigorous enjoyment. He didn’t say much by way of introduction, only pulled a plastic pay-in bag towards him and gutted it with a pair of scissors, causing money to spill across the desk. Sorting through the bundles, he searched out a piece of paper. ‘Find the pay-in slip,’ he instructed. Holding it so that I could see, he indicated the total in the corner. ‘This one’s the takings from Wetherspoon’s. Forty-four thousand, nine hundred and twenty.’ He was already liberating bundles of money from their rubber bands and feeding them into a machine. The banknotes whispered as they filtered through and a digital counter climbed until it reached one thousand. Don slid the counted bundle out, snapped the rubber band back into place, and stashed the lot in a drawer beneath the desk. His movements were efficient yet absentminded, as though his hands would have performed this function whether he was aware of it or not, and then the process began again, except this time, the counting machine emitted a flapping sound and then a clunk. Grimacing, Don stopped scratching around his temples for long enough to poke a finger into the mechanism and withdraw a crumpled scrap of blue. ‘Fiver,’ he said. ‘Fuckers to count. Get jammed in the machines ‘cause half the time they’re in bits. Folk just stuff them in their pockets. 37


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Tenners and twenties get some respect. Fifties: fucking pristine. But noone gives a fuck for a fiver.’ ‘I guess you’re right.’ ‘I am right.’ ‘Yes.’ The machine churned out bundles. He stacked them expertly, and when it was confirmed that there was £44,920 in the bag, he scratched a particularly bothersome patch of skin behind his right ear and then stamped the slip with barely concealed hostility. ‘Initial it,’ he instructed, ‘and that’s it done. If you get coins, there’s a weighing machine over there. Find any amounts don’t match what’s on the slip, and shout on me. Think you can manage that?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Fine.’ He hoisted a bag of money in each hand, feeling the weight. ‘What degree is it you got then?’ ‘English Literature and History.’ ‘Gonna be an English teacher?’ ‘No,’ I said. ‘I don’t know.’ The look on his face was amused as he tossed one of the bags to me. ‘That’s your lot,’ he said.

By the end of the first week I’d learned the rules of the place. Each of us had a video camera suspended above our heads, watching us work, recording our every movement. At the end of the day, the bundles of notes in our desk drawers had to balance with the added up total of the pay-in slips we’d stamped. If there was a discrepancy, no-one was allowed to leave the building until the difference had been accounted for. And yet, it didn’t feel like real money in my hands. The paper cuts were real. The urine smell of the notes that got under my fingernails. The backache from leaning over the counting 38


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machine. But the numbers were too big. The sheer volume of the stuff took away its meaning. I learned that the windows didn’t open and that even the reinforced glazing couldn’t block out the noise of the Orange marchers when they passed through the streets below. I learned what to do if someone was to break into the facility and take me hostage. And I learned that I would not receive my first pay cheque until the end of July. I would reach my overdraft limit long before then but I told no-one. Not my parents, not my friends and especially not Don, who greeted me in the same way each morning, scratching his whole skull in mock puzzlement at the sight of me. ‘What you still doing here?’ he would ask. ‘Thought you had a degree.’

My credit ran out on a Friday. Slouched over the cashline, a stranger waiting close behind me, I looked at the message again: INSUFFICIENT FUNDS. The stranger jingled loose change in his pocket and tutted. The machine vomited my card and I walked away, humiliated. Money was in scarce supply at work that afternoon too – perhaps in sympathy, the supply of pregnant pay-in bags ran dry at four o’clock. It didn’t happen often, but twice now we’d finished counting with time to spare. Patsy looked satisfied as she announced that she’d need to look into staffing levels for the next week. Until then, it wasn’t her way to allow us to sit doing nothing, and today could be no exception. Before long, a trolley loaded with plastic pallets was wheeled into the room. Each pallet was the size of a small suitcase and all of them were filled with fifty-pound notes. Don’s observation about the pristine nature of fifties had stuck in my mind and been confirmed by the few I’d counted among the usual tenners and twenties, but these notes appeared brand new. The smell of them was blinding, and when we 39


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set to work sorting them, I found that they slipped through my fingers too easily. They were free from dirt. Unsullied. Ridiculously oversized and crisp, the red designs on them were magnificent. Each counted bundle was five thousand pounds and they were all of them rightangled, all of them satisfyingly right-angled, and portable. I dared to glance up. Across the desk, Don was slipping his finger under the paper sheaths that held each wad of fifties together and snapping them apart. The paper sheaths were another sign that this money was virginal. No grubby rubber bands. No missing corners. For the first time, I noticed that my co-worker had tattoos etched across his inner arm. They were names in black – Sheila, David, Nicky, Debbie – and something rippled under the surface of his inked skin each time he broke the seals from the bundles of cash. Snap, snap, snap. I glanced at the camera above my head and then I quickly looked away, focusing instead on Don’s face. As if sensing my gaze, he lifted his eyes to me. Snap, snap, snap. ‘What you looking at?’ he said. ‘Nothing. Well, no, just. Wondered what you were thinking.’ ‘Not thinking anything,’ he told me. ‘All right?’ ‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘Sorry.’ He stiffened. ‘Sorry for what?’ ‘What?’ ‘Sorry for what?’ Beneath my ponytail, my scalp felt tight and hot. ‘No,’ I said. ‘Nothing.’ He watched me drop my eyes and focus on the safety of the task in my hands.

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I counted and stacked the money. I balanced up at ten past five. I washed the smell of the fifties from my fingers, replacing it with the chemical odour of the liquid soap from the dispensers in the staff toilets. And then I shouldered my bag, and walked home. The streets were hot and airless; I wished that it would rain. My flat was empty when I arrived and the telephone was ringing. ‘I’m looking for Molly Gardiner.’ ‘That’s me. Speaking.’ There was a pause, in which I tried without success to unravel a knot in the telephone cable. It uncoiled and sprang back, colliding with the tower of job rejection letters I’d created on the table. The voice was middle-aged and bored. ‘I’m calling from the Faculty of Arts,’ he said. ‘I believe you graduated this summer?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Are you currently in employment?’ ‘I work for a bank,’ I told him. With a single finger, I toppled the rest of the rejection letter tower. The letters cascaded onto the floor, revealing my graduation day brochure at the bottom of the pile. For some reason, I’d carried it around with me during the whole ceremony like some kind of shield and now here it was, sitting on the table in my hallway. ‘What did you say this is for?’ I asked. ‘The Higher Education Statistics Agency requires us to report on how many of our alumni find employment within six months of graduation.’ ‘It’s just a temp job,’ I told him. ‘It might be finished on Monday. They’re thinking about staffing levels.’ ‘The options I have are; ‘employed, enrolled for further study, seeking work’, or “other”.’ ‘And having a degree didn’t help,’ I told him. ‘They hate me. They hate me because I have a degree.’ 41


SCOTTISH BOOK TRUST

There was a pause. ‘Do you want me to mark you as “other”?’ I picked up the graduation brochure. The cover had a photograph of the university, smiling students and ancient buildings. Gold embossed letters said: CONGRATULATIONS. I gazed dumbly at it – the gloss of it, the dreaming spires, the cloudless sky. ‘Put me down as “other” if you like,’ I said. ‘I just want to pay off my debt. It doesn’t make any difference to me what you put me down as.’ ‘Okay. Thank you for your time.’ I listened to the dial tone. Across my scalp, my skin was prickling. Burning. I raised a corner of the brochure to the crown of my head, and sawed it back and forth.

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43


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ANDREW SCLATER Andrew Sclater has worked as an actor, gardener, lecturer, garden historian, and editor of Darwin’s letters. He is interested in art and landscape and more, and more and more, in people. Though unpublished till recently, he has always thought of himself primarily as a poet. In 2010, while still unpublished, he was shortlisted for the inaugural Picador Poetry Prize. He held a Northern Promise Award from New Writing North in the following year. In 2012, through the Scottish Book Trust, he is being mentored by the poet, naturalist, photographer and typographer Gerry Cambridge. 2012 also saw him participating in the Orkney Writers Course at the St Magnus International Festival, appearing in print in national magazines for the first time, and in residence during September at Hugh MacDiarmid’s Brownsbank Cottage. Andrew has been supported by Apples and Snakes and ARC Stockton Arts Centre in performance development. He is increasingly being invited to read in public, both in Scotland and in Northern England. He is co-editing the second issue of the new poetry magazine, Butcher’s Dog for publication in spring 2013. He also builds drystane dykes, keeps dogs, rides a motorbike and lives in Edinburgh. He is concerned as to why sclatrie, in old Scots, means obscenities and scandals. www.butchersdogmagazine.com 44


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Maggoty At Carstairs prison pigeons sit on fences round the yard. A man who slit his lover’s throat, and set her house on fire twitches in his cell and eyeballs razor wire, tits and sparrows. He remembers still his talons swooping in to kill his laughing hen through morning mist, because she flew the nest, and kissed a human man -- her peck’s soft heart, a tongue. So Maggoty-Pie had made her bleed, unstrung her shining beads and lined them out across her darkwood bedroom floor -- their gloss meant more to him than loss of her to sky. Is this why magpies hoard, or why he hung each necklace round his throat and sewed crow’s feathers on his coat and at the window stood and cawed at polis dogs that strained and pawed the ground, growling in the firelight? His had been a life of faultless flight but on that night his trophies added weight and down he plunged into that great round net where he was caught. We too thrill and soar and kill and fall like Maggoty did, and beat about, some bedtimes, like a fucking animal.

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Norway Has Snow Today, Wednesday ‘for Shelley’ This is the white evidence of all that was under the day before. Everything Tuesday wore is smothered. It is the white type of the black evidence of the fur fold of a daytime-bat hanging upside down in a barn. Just a snip of something bigger, a breathless bit of heaven that smothers the dragging and smoking and wagging, ingesting and resting, the building-up somehows from freezing-up snowploughs. The flakes hide the ridges the birds fly like fishes and the ultimate purpose of all is to hold up this white heaven weight to forget and enclose and before it is too late to fall to lie to cover with all the design the sign of what is for us under all too wonderful to see.

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Dim I saw my father linger in a bulb somewhere: heavier than the filament, denser than the gas-filled sphere, he dithered about in his diminished lumens, changing places with letters and wattages and marks of EU approval. He was neither screw-fit nor bayonet, but by some technical marvel managed to attack in both modes. But now, he fades father and farther, gathering “ahs�, and everyone has switched off.

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The Apothecary Nux Vomica was for her a distant hope a hopeful burden, such that abortion bore no worse a weight than fornication It was easy for her to linger late for the gentlemen, feel a compulsion to bear their flab weight and perspiration their eagerness for her ill-fed pale-taupe body in damp brown rooms in Chinatown offering her bait removing her gown I would often see her regurgitate the bitter potion shaking the basin edge, and losing weight the unseen motion

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of disease invading her in guise of hope to reach home alive and rise to ocean dives. I bound her with rope. I used my sharpest knives.

In The Home Of Our National Poet The windows are jammed shut. The water will not flow. It is Grade A listed. The wind is up and it buggers its way beneath the door. This is what immortality is. And what MacDiarmid was working for.

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Falling With My Father He recovered from the war as if falling from a bridge, to discover that a bar beckoned from a ledge. Years on, and in he dives again to fall some more with red-faced men and ticket touts, and tipsters all, and trusts slick spivs and slippery types to put a fiver on a horse for him, or take him to a nurse. Then out he’ll go, in bouts beyond the busted edge, in city gloves to spar with air and feint with stars, or swallow yellow moths and cough and never quite will quit the fight or strike it level with the floor. You’ll understand, I couldn’t stand to see him tight like that, so took his sodden wad of notes, and strung out ropes to guide his crawl across an upright face.

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He snarled ‘I am no mountaineer. I never was. I’ll reach that place (by God I’ll climb) some other time Now from this chap I’ve got a tip for Aintree in the 2 o’clock tomorrow and to that I’ll cling, although I fear the going’s soft, the members too. Good cheer! Ding! Ding!’ At which the barman rung the bell, my father downed his cloudy beer and nudged me, sharpish, to the edge and over so we slid and fell

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Durness Clearance i. m. the brave crofters of the riot I would have been at Ceannabeinne in a box bed, against a wall backed by nettled soil, steeped in urine from our sheep. I would have held you, kissed you, and known the smell of you, your ear. My dearest Mairi. And we’d have lain in ease and salted air, in comfort of garden and byre, and the reek of our sheep and our fire. The day they’d come, you’d call me from the bent at Balnakeil. “Campbell! Campbell of Chamuill” you’d cry “Will burn us out” and I’d have run, fearing cost of fire, run and hurled my black fist in his feckfu’ face, before they burnt us clear, my Mairi, dearie. I’d have killed for you my fiere. And walked in Strath Hope for ever.

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At All Souls The languages the dead speak are the languages of grass, of potash, of flowers and floral tributes. The dances the dead dance are Sir Roger de Coverley, the roaring Gay Gordons and Strip-the-Willow. The words the dead whisper are sly and inconsequent, moaning with softening melt of sweet nothings. The wild hours the dead keep fling clear off the clock face like rock from the needle of a 45 record. Come now wheel me in the feel of your dugness at the jig’s edge of feeble grind. The slug in the snug of the ground is humped up by your beauty.

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HELEN SEDGWICK Helen Sedgwick is a freelance writer and literary editor based in Glasgow. She is currently working on a short story collection about science and a novel about false memory syndrome. Her fiction and non-fiction can be read in Algebra, Spilling Ink, Litro, Gutter, and Nature, among others, and in 2011 she was shortlisted in the Spilling Ink Fiction Prize and the Imagining Scotland national short story competition. Helen has performed her work at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the Edinburgh Fringe and Glasgow’s Aye Write. She teaches Creative Writing for Glasgow University and the Scottish Universities’ International Summer School at Edinburgh University. She is co-founding editor of Fractured West and review editor of Gutter, and has worked as a freelance literary editor with McSweeney’s, Freight Books and Cargo Publishing. Helen established her own editorial company Wildland Literary Editors in 2012. www.helensedgwick.com / www.wildlandliteraryeditors.com Co-Editor, Fractured West: www.fracturedwest.com Review Editor, Gutter: www.guttermag.co.uk 54


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Save The Sea Turtles

‘S

ave the sea turtles,’ you say. You are handing out

flyers along the promenade in front of the strip of luxury hotels near Kaminia Beach. Crowds push past you, making you unsteady on your feet, and you feel like you are swimming upstream, against the current whichever way you turn. All that sunscreen, all those flipflops and sarongs – you’re not sure if you like it, but you are sure you stand out. A sore thumb in such an old-fashioned, British way. Kate would laugh at you, tell you to ‘loosen up’. But Kate’s not here. ‘Save the sea turtles!’ No one even breaks their stride. You think about giving up, finding some shelter and withdrawing into yourself, but then a flash of yellow catches your eye, blue shoes, bucket and spade. The girl walking towards you is nine, maybe ten, and she shies away from your outstretched hand – when did your hands start to look like this? – to hide behind her mother’s tanned legs. ‘Save the sea turtles?’ For a second you block their path, bending down so you can reach her, but her mother eyes you with suspicion and you know what she is thinking – go away, old man. And so you step aside and find yourself once more fighting against the progress of people drawn to the beach. You rub your back, and remember how it used to be straight and strong. It has been aching for days. The sea is the same as it was yesterday, as it was the day before. The turquoise in the shallows hints at the rock platform below the 55


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surface; the green at the sand bed, the darker blue at the depth of the Mediterranean. The beach itself is visible only in patches between the matching umbrellas and beach towels and stalls of garish-looking ice cream. You wonder when vanilla went so out of fashion. ‘Save the sea turtles,’ you offer to a couple, mid-twenties, with arms full of holiday paraphernalia and hair all sea-salt infused. They shake their heads, and stop to talk to Jeanie behind you. She has a hairclip of peacock feathers in her hair, sandals with beads on the straps, and they seem happy enough to take one of her save-the-seaturtle leaflets instead. You are working together, you and Jeanie, for the same charity. She is on her gap year. She is young and optimistic and always brightly coloured, she’s going to university next year to study Environmental Science, and the children aren’t scared of her. It’s a good thing, for Save The Sea Turtles, to have people like Jeanie. You understand that. When you signed up, even Save The Sea Turtles were a bit suspicious. They wanted to know why someone your age would want to do this, for six months, unpaid. Why a professor of Ecology was willing to live in the hostel and work all night, why you didn’t have a life elsewhere to be getting on with. You told them you’d been to Kefalonia before, with Kate, just after her graduation, and you had grown to love the sea turtles. You told them it would feel good to be on the ground, doing something practical. You were persistent and in the end they believed you, on the whole.

The evenings in Kefalonia are breezy, which is good for the people, but less so for the posters and leaflets that you have to keep pinned under pebbles. The Hotel Mediterranean Star has a beach bar overlooking the sea, and that is where you and Jeanie set up the display. The beach bar serves cocktails in large glasses and popcorn in little bowls, and most of 56


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the people sitting around have come down for a drink after dinner, a stroll along the sand. They don’t know yet why you are here, what the posters are all about, but a few are curious enough to stay when Jeanie stands up and starts to talk. Jeanie is very good at this. People respond to her; they like her. They listen as she tells them about the sea turtles, and they enjoy watching her in her pretty flowered dress. She doesn’t have a script because she prefers to make the talk different every night, to keep it natural. You don’t think you’d be very good at that, in your pressed chinos and beige shirt. Tonight, you notice the young girl from earlier is here, and you realise that you probably misjudged her age before. She now seems more like eight. You think of how short a time that is, just eight years. Caretta Caretta sea turtles are ancient. They’ve been around for well over 40 million years. Sometimes you try to imagine how long that is, but you can’t. It’s a number so big that it has become abstract. But they have a life span of around 60 years, and that you can imagine. It makes them almost like people. During the talk you keep a low profile. You stand back, keep an eye out that the leaflets don’t blow away, watch the expressions of the tourists. The girl’s mother has her arm protectively round her daughter now, as she sips noisily at the dregs of a Tropical Sunrise. Sometimes you feel like something in you is breaking again and again, and you have no idea how to make it stop. Caretta Caretta sea turtles live in the ocean, but nest on the beach. They lay their eggs above high-tide and incubate them under the sand. When they hatch, their parents are long gone and the hatchlings have to dig their way to the surface and navigate back to the sea. They don’t have good vision and so they find their way by heading for the brightest horizon, which 40 million years ago, or 40 thousand, or even just 40, was created by the reflection of the moon off water. They still believe that the light will lead them to the sea. 57


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Some people leave while Jeanie is talking. She doesn’t mind – or if she does she doesn’t show it – calling out to them to have a nice evening, and to watch out for sea turtles. You don’t think they will; unlike Jeanie you silently observe them as they walk hand in hand down to the beach, still oblivious to what they might be treading on. The mother and her little girl stay right to the end, though, and afterwards they go up to Jeannie and buy a t-shirt with a picture of a sea turtle on it. You think about asking her name, that pretty little girl, but before you do her mother holds out her hand and says, ‘Don’t touch that, Lizzie.’ She was only reaching for one of the flyers, so you pick it up and hand it to her. She takes it from you and as she does so she takes hold of your hand, and just stands there, staring. You’re not sure why but it makes you tremble, and that makes you feel like you should say something, something normal, like Jeanie would say, so you tell her, “save the sea turtles.’ She doesn’t reply, but her eyes are wide. Everyone else has gone already, to the beach or the pool bar or that terrible disco, and soon enough her mother has pulled her away and it is just you and Jeanie left, and the barman whistling as he practices throwing his cocktail shaker. ‘I don’t get it,’ Jeanie says to you. ‘No one seems to care.’ You don’t have a reply, so you don’t offer one. She starts to pack up the display board; soon it will be time to start work on the beach.

At night, that’s when your work really begins. This is the bit you believe in now. You tell yourself that this is why you are here, and it makes you feel like you have a purpose. Caretta Caretta sea turtles are among the most loyal creatures on the planet. They return to the beach they were born on decades ago to lay their eggs in the same spot as they themselves hatched. During the nesting season they leave the water, climb the beach, and begin to 58


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scrape away at the sand. With their hind limbs, they excavate a chamber in which they deposit their eggs. Then they crawl back to the sea. They leave their nests unprotected because they trust that their offspring will find their way to the sea – just like they did, and their parents before them. Just like sea turtles always have. Tonight, you are building small protective shelters around the nests. If there were no shelters, then when the eggs finally hatched, when the baby turtles dug their way out of the ground and emerged, gasping for water, the hotel lights would lead them in the wrong direction, and they would never find the sea. Their parents have no idea of this. They have no idea of the danger. They don’t realise that their children might die. They don’t realise that they might never be able to find their way home. You and Jeanie work quietly, side by side, to build the low-lying fences around each of the new turtle nests. There are others too, of course – looking down the beach you can see small pairs or groups of volunteers doing the same. Mostly students, the boys work topless, the girls in shorts and vest tops; practical enough clothes for the work, but still attractive enough to be seen working in. You are sweating through your shirt but you won’t take it off. When you have finished, you sit down to draw, like you do every night. The breeze rushes over the sea in waves. Everything is in silver and deep blue, the sea, the sky, the sand, starlit just enough to see the shapes without torchlight. You draw the turtle nests with their miniature fencing, and you drawn the tiny eggs hidden inside. It reminds you of the drawings Kate used to do when she was young: this is a house and this is a garden; this is a family; these are the children. ‘What’s that for?’ Jeanie asks, peering over your shoulder. You pull the page towards you protectively. ‘For Kate,’ you reply. ‘Your wife?’ You shake your head. ‘My daughter.’ 59


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‘How old is she?’ ‘Eight,’ you say, because that’s how old you are thinking of her tonight. Then you turn away, willing Jeanie to leave. No more of these questions now. Jeanie puts her hand on your shoulder as she wishes you good night. She heads over to the boys’ hostel, and you can’t help but feel a little disappointed in her, and then in yourself.

You don’t go back to the hostel that night. Instead, you bury your feet in the sand and watch the waves. There are rocks out to sea, almost big enough to be islands but not quite, and you wonder what it would be like to live on one, to wake up every day with nothing but sea and sand and stone. After a while you close your eyes, but you don’t sleep – you are listening for any movement on the beach. You are longing for movement so much that you’re not sure, at first, if it is real, the quiet scratching that is coming from the sand beside you. But when you open your eyes again you see the top of a flipper pushing its way out to the surface. You freeze, sit and watch and wait as sand slips away and the head of a hatchling appears. It’s having trouble getting out but you know you mustn’t help – the sea turtles have to do this bit for themselves. It struggles and clambers out of the nest buried deep under the sand, and without stopping it takes an uncertain path to the sea. You realise you need something to drink, but you can’t move, not yet. Beside you, another is climbing up, and another. They are all flippers and heads and shells, a wonderful muddle of turtle, and one by one they find their way to the water. Through it all you are silent and still, because you know that they should see nothing on the beach except sea and sand and stone, and when the last one is gone you stay where you are, only dig 60


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your feet in a little deeper and wonder what it must be like, to wake up buried and have to claw your way to life. It is still dark when you start to walk along the promenade beside Kaminia beach. ‘Save the sea turtles,’ you call out to no one, because no one is there. You were going to get a drink, but now you just want to hand out flyers, even though you’re struggling to hold them; you want everyone to understand. You want to speak louder, but your voice hardly makes a sound – ‘Save the sea turtles!’ You want to shout so loud it will wake them from their sleep, but instead you allow your legs to buckle and you try to crawl along the ground. ‘Save the sea turtles?’ You stop crawling and pull your head inside your shell. Your thirst is making your throat gasp and you can feel your skin breaking in the heat. But you understand what you have to do. You move slowly back to the beach, dragging your legs through the sand until, finally, you can feel the cold water lapping at your feet. Before your head is submerged you turn back, just for a moment, to see the hotels and the hostel, to see Jeanie or the girl in the yellow dress, but you can’t see anything anymore, not up there. The lights are blinding.

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ERIKA SHORTER Originally from Canada, Erika first came to Scotland on a student exchange four years ago. She returned for an MLitt and never quite made her way back. She is currently based in Dundee where she writes literary fiction and teaches rock climbing. Erika’s interested in finding new applications for the written word and likes to play with video, digital, audio and physical forms. She’s been known to collaborate with designers for more experimental projects and has had work published in numerous magazines and even the odd erotica anthology. After a tremendously fun internship at Canongate Books, she’s currently spending the Scottish winter dipping her toes into copywriting and editing projects alongside her own writing. She’s always keen to work with artists, musicians and designers to create interactive projects, so if this is you, do get in touch. She makes great pancakes and cocktails if that sweetens the deal. Twitter: @erik_a_anderson 62


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Extract from novel

oh, unbreakable you

P

LEASE PLEASE PLEASE

Morning sounds cut in and out like shit mobile reception. Covering his ears with balled fists, Si groans. The noise echoes dully. Rolling over, he peels the back of his hand off his face. He lifts his left arm to scratch his crotch. He lifts his left arm to scratch his crotch. He LIFTS HIS LEFT ARM – squinting through a thick hangover curtain, he sees it trapped under an arse barely covered by red pants. Lacy red pants, pulling pants, pants cut away to show the crease of firm white cheeks. His morning erection confuses itself with the urgent need to piss. Her freckled shoulders rise and fall but he can’t hear any breath. Si slowly shifts his weight to peer at her face, tucked into the crook of her elbow, palm behind scruffy brown curls. Pretty face, no nasty makeup smears, and (Si lifts the cover), a slim, pale body with curled legs leading to that perfect arse. He leans closer to smell her hair; there’s a spicy orange scent in his bed and for sure it’s not his own. The girl’s breathing snags and Si freezes. One problem wrestles priority from his aching cock. I can’t remember her name. He slides out of bed with as little movement possible, pulls on boxers from a pile of dirty laundry near the wall, gently twists the 63


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doorknob and closes it behind him without a sound. With difficulty, he gets a stream going and watches last night’s pints and pills swishing darkly into the bowl. Standing there watching the last feeble spurts drain from his bladder, Si runs through the alphabet willing his brain to stop somewhere. He gets to z. Nothing. Three shakes and a swig of mouthwash later, Si leaves the bog and ducks into the sitting room, spitting on his hand and trying to rub the club’s stamp off where it imprinted itself on his forehead. Jude is sitting on a cracked black leather couch in an old bathrobe, fag dangling loosely from one hand, laptop balanced on his bare knees. The polished gloom of The Smiths pours from the speakers. ‘Awright dickhead?’ Jude leans his head back and conducts contentedly. ‘Yeah, cool. Great. Uh, yeh see that bird I came back with last night?’ ‘Mmmm. Well done,’ Jude yawns. ‘Right, yeah. Uh, ah’m a bit fuzzy, did we hang out with you at all after the club?’ Jude’s head snaps to level. His eyes narrow and he takes his fag down to his fingertips in one draw. ‘I paid for the cab and helped you get her up the stairs, you arse.’ ‘Right. Sorry. Right. So, you caught her name then?’ Si holds his breath. Jude, having just taken a mouthful of chocolate cereal, chokes with laughter, spraying brown milk down the front of his ratty bathrobe. Si, still jiggling, looks over his shoulder at the still-closed bedroom door. ‘Right, yeah I’m a tit, well done. Just tell me.’ ‘Nah.’ Jude grins and mops his face. ‘What dae you mean “nah”? C’mon man, just tell me! She’s gonnae wake up any second!’ ‘Tell you what. We’ll play a game.’ ‘Don’t be a dick.’ ‘Hear me out.’ Jude pulls a small red notebook out from between 64


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the couch cushions and reaches for a pen. ‘I’ll write her name down and hide it somewhere in the flat. Fun for everyone, yeah?’ He scribbles on the paper, holding it behind his head as Si snatches for it. ‘JUDE, just help me out this once, what dae you want, I’ll – shit. Shit that’s her.’ The toilet flushes, taps run, the boys freeze. They stay motionless through the click of a light switch and the soft scuff of bare feet. The girl leans against the doorframe, hands in pockets, hair twisted into a messy knot at the nape of her neck. ‘Alright,’ her voice is lower and quieter than Jude expected. ‘Yeah, you sleep okay?’ Si feels hyper-aware that his pupils are still huge. ‘Mmm. You have coffee? I’m more than a little hungover.’ Her big green eyes, slow with sleep, take in Jude. He looks at the table and repeats her pretty name in his head. He likes one-syllable names, they remind him of musical notes. Si nervously puts a hand on the small of her back to lead her to the kitchen. She arches it off and moves to sit on the couch next to Jude. ‘Right, I’ll get it then.’ Si’s voice gets higher and higher. ‘Milk? Sugar?’ ‘Black.’ Jude begins to roll another fag and she watches his deft fingers. ‘D’you mind?’ She rolls a thin one without waiting for an answer, her tongue darting out to lick the adhesive strip of the paper. She wears no make-up, except for a slight smear of grey eyeliner, twisting her eyes feline. Her cheekbones are high and very pink, but not with the horrible glitz and shine Jude sees on most girls. He thinks she might be blushing. Girls never blush anymore. He stares from the corners of his eyes. ‘Have a good night then?’ His voice breaks at the word ‘good’. Ash falls on his bare chest and he bats it away quickly. ‘Not as good as he’ll tell you. To be honest, I needed a place to crash. Awful, I know.’ One corner of her mouth tilts up. ‘I’m not from here.’ Her 65


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accent is slightly posh, in a mocking way; it lilts out at the end of sentences, as though she doesn’t like hearing herself speak. Jude can’t place it. ‘Oh, so you didn’t – sorry, none of my business.’ ‘It’s not. But no.’ She yawns and stretches her arms above her head, her white vest lifting to reveal several inches of navel, dotted with a scattering of raised, circular white scars. Jude’s never seen such perfect skin. She sees him looking and drops her arms quickly, pulling down her vest. In covering her stomach she reveals the tops of small, pale breasts, unbound nipples stiffening through the thin fabric. Jude’s saliva thickens and plugs his throat with want. ‘You seemed quite keen on him last night.’ ‘Aye, I was. He reminds me of my wee brother… in some ways.’ ‘That’s a bit twisted.’ ‘S’why I didn’t shag him, isn’t it?’ They grin at each other through a haze of smoke. She begins to cough, a slight whistle at the end of each chest rattle. ‘I’m really not meant to smoke. Asthma.’ ‘Me neither. I’m a swimmer.’ ‘Better reason.’ The girl lifts her eyebrows in admiration. ‘Maybe.’ Jude feels his forehead redden and hides it by looking bored. The girl stubs out her fag and leans closer. Their knees touch. Si lurches in, sloshing weak coffee onto the wooden floor. They jerk to opposite sides of the couch. She watches the muddy liquid pool, then drip into the cracks. Si settles himself between them, though the couch is too small. They drink in silence, The Smiths having finished their turn and no one bothering to stand up to change the record. Jude un-wedges himself and walks into his bedroom. Si tries to look for the scrap of paper without the girl noticing, and manages to seem distracted, miserable and anxious all at once. She drains her steaming coffee without flinching and presses her knees together. 66


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Jude wheels his bicycle out, dressed in jeans rolled up at the cuffs and an Arab Strap t-shirt. ‘Right, I’m off into uni then.’ ‘That’s a stunning bike!’ Both boys startle at her sudden enthusiasm. She moves to kneel beside it then runs her fingers over the frame. ‘I love the blue and yellow combination. Fixed gear, yeah? How very trendy of you.’ She smiles up at him teasingly. ‘Is that practical for Dundee? Such a hilly place. Seems more of a London look. Have you named him?’ ‘Rex.’ Jude reddens again, this time with pleasure. ‘That’s perfect! Mine was called Henry. He was nicked a few weeks back right outside my flat. Ten in the morning! Chained up and everything. That’s Glasgow for you. I built it with…’ She cuts herself off abruptly and examines the chain. Jude tries, and fails to think of something to keep the conversation going. Si can be heard scrabbling about in his bedroom yelling something about finding money for a taxi when she shoulders her bag and slips to the door, pulling on red flats. ‘Tell him I had to dash, yeah?’ Jude steadies Rex with one hand and checks for his wallet with the other. He’s late for a meeting with his PhD advisor, but can’t seem to leave. ‘I’d best be off too. Bye Em.’ ‘Bye.’ She leans over his shoulder and presses her weight into him briefly: an armless hug. The tips of her hair graze his neck. Her breath is warm and smells of coffee and oranges as she shouts through to the bedroom, ‘BYE SI, NICE TO MEET YOU!’ ‘Wait, wait!’ Si trips over Jude’s bike pump and in the confusion, Em winks and kisses Jude quickly on the shoulder. She runs down the stairs with quick, small steps and no backwards look. SHOES, an INTERLUDE Em bought them six months ago, while visiting her mother in a large, dirty Canadian city. She bought them in a shop run by pretty, underfed 67


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boys in tight jeans with bad posture and glasses with thick frames. She bought them with her credit card, without trying them on. These details are all very important. She sat on a bench outside, unwrapped them and pulled them over her heels. She slipped her old trainers into her shoulder bag, their gaffer tape patches snagging on her books. She found the restaurant, ordered a coffee, and had the following conversation with her mother: ‘Hello Mum.’ She slings her bag over the back of her chair and sits. Her mother turns one cheek for Em to kiss. ‘You look well. Thin, but well. Are your funds holding out?’ ‘Of course, Mum. Are yours?’ ‘Don’t be crass,’ her mother dabs at her nose with a handkerchief. ‘But you -’ ‘But me nothing. How are your troubles? It’s been long enough, don’t you think?’ Em has left the restaurant and retreated somewhere much prettier in her head. ‘Emily. Emily, I asked you a question.’ A BUSINESS LUNCH or, YOUNG STUFF ‘What can I get for you?’ The waitress drawls in an accent that isn’t English, Scottish or Irish, but decidedly, ‘art school’. It grates against Jude’s ears. His advisor, Thom, is a bearded Londoner with a taste for young women, wine and strong cheeses. He eyes up the petite, layered thing appreciatively, and his voice drops nearly a full octave as he orders. ‘Large cappuccino and the brie panini.’ ‘Chocolate on the cappuccino?’ She drops one hip lazily. ‘Why not, ta. Jude, what are you having?’ ‘Oh, just a coke.’ ‘That’s all? It’s on the department, you know.’ ‘Yeah.’ A pen scratches and the kitten heels clip away. ‘She was eyeing you, mate.’ Thom’s gut strains against the buttons of his shirt as he leans forward. 68


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‘What?’ ‘That tight little waitress. If I were your age…’ ‘I’m not… interested, really.’ Jude shifts uncomfortably. ‘I’m not that good with women. Not my type, anyway.’ ‘Eh? Give over, type my arse. She’s got all the bits. You’re missing out on all the young stuff!’ The waitress returns and sets down their drinks. Thom shows gold fillings as he grins, and kicks Jude’s shins under the table. ‘Eh? Eh?’ Jude drinks his coke in silence and thinks he’s not missing out at all. LATER THAT NIGHT Si pulls out a wooden box with an abstract mushroom engraved on the lid. His thick fingers fumble as they roll a sloppy joint. He tilts his head and speaks out of one side of his mouth, saliva soaking the base of the spliff. ‘Maaaan.’ Jude looks at him, knowing he’s meant to ask. He can’t be arsed and says nothing. ‘I mean… damn!’ Si grins expectantly and clasps his hands behind his head. Jude refuses to take the bait. He doesn’t want to hear it, let alone picture it. He knows everything Si’s about to say is bollocks, complete shite, but he still doesn’t want to hear it. About her. Si ignores the weighty silence and kicks off – describing positions, moans, the claw marks down his back, the way she begged for it, what she called his, what he called hers, how wet she was, the ooohhhhhhhh babys! and the harder, Si! (sigh)s, and the multiplemultiplemultiple orgasms and how her tits looked bigger naked like oranges like peaches like grapefruits like melons (make up your goddamned mind) and then how he bent her over and… ‘Si. I know you didn’t shag her.’ Jude’s teeth clamp around the words. ‘Fucking did! How would you ken anything about it? Listening in were you, you wee perv?’ Si blusters, on the defensive. 69


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‘You were so trashed you couldn’t have got it up. No way,’ Jude mutters. ‘Shows how much you know about my cock then, doesn’t it? Not only did I get it up, I gave her the night – of – her –’ Si thrusts at the air between his hands. ‘Right.’ Jude cuts him off. ‘Got it.’ They sit in silence, smoke hazing in the air between them. Si speaks first, hesitantly. ‘You pissed about something?’ ‘Nah man. Pass the skins.’ Three inches of Em’s pale stomach float before Jude’s eyes. OH BABY, OH BABY, OH No one has ever had better sex than Jude and Em have in Jude’s mind. Jude comes in (often out of the rain) and without speaking pulls Em onto his lap. She smiles, and shifts her skirt high around her hips. She faces him, the smile dropping into something sexy and serious. She wraps her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist, shifting her perfect arse towards his hips. Em tips her head back and closes her eyes, arching backwards in little thrusts opening her lips to the sweetest moans. When she comes she falls against his shoulder and whispers ‘I love you’ wetly against his ear. OR, She’s in the kitchen baking bread when he gets in from the uni. She wrinkles her nose in adorable annoyance and starts in about what an awful cook she is – Jude kisses her floury hands and hoists her onto the kitchen counter where they clutch at each other, gasping through every wave of heat and pulse and hunger. OR, They are sleeping in their bed, Em tucked perfectly into the question-mark-shaped curvature of his chest, groin and legs. They push slightly against each other with every inhalation, turning each other on 70


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even as they sleep. Wavering in and out of sleep, Em slips out of her pyjamas and lifts one leg back to wrap over Jude’s hips, pulling him closer. She slides under him, rolling him over so his lips instinctively press into her shoulder and his hands fall on the small of her back. She reaches around to find him hard. His weight is heavy on her small frame as they make love, only half-awake. OR, They fight over something stupid; Jude met up with his advisor for drinks last night, forgetting Em had made dinner. In this one, his advisor is a blonde leggy German and Em has a jealous fit. They glare at each other from opposite sides of the room all evening. Em is reading a book and Jude is pretending to write his dissertation, but really just watching Em over the top of his computer screen. Jude feels miserable and turned on. Her legs tucked up underneath her show the crease where her thigh stops. Jude pulls on an oversized jumper to hide his erection and stands. ‘Tea?’ An olive branch. Em looks at him and bites her lip, nodding. The kettle hasn’t finished boiling before she’s wrapped her small arms around his waist, and their rage dissipates into salt-skin and the taste of each other’s mouths. OR,

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RICHARD W. STRACHAN Richard W. Strachan lives in Edinburgh and has had short fiction published in a number of magazines, including Gutter, Birdville, Spilling Ink Review, Litro and The View From Here. He has performed at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and has written for The Scottish Review of Books and The Skinny. He won the first Waterstones Booksellers Bursary for creative writing in 2008. He is the co-editor of the online journal Free State, and writes a regular blog about literature, publishing and bookselling. This year he completed a novel called In Borderlands, and is currently working on a second novel and a collection of short stories. http://richardstrachan.wordpress.com 72


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Extract from novel

In Borderlands

H

e had papery skin and a sharp, fleshless Punchinello

face. He said his name was Samuel. He was telling them the story of how he came to be here, restless in this house tonight. The face cut and stabbed and swept aside all other conversational thrusts and parries. No one was concerned to listen, but he told the story anyway. If no one had been there, he would have kept talking all the same. He was compelled. The only light in the room came from the petal of a candle flame, tethered to its wick in the upturned lid of a coffee jar. I walked there to present myself, Samuel said. All eager and keen, to present myself for the position described in the advert. Very much what I had gathered was that it was going to be a case of first come and first served. And I meant to be the one who got there first. I was going to be the one who got served. When I got there, from what they told me, from what my new employer told me, I had not just been the first to arrive, but the only one to arrive, in the eight weeks since they had placed the advert. I had walked. That was the edge I had, even if there had been dozens of candidates. I had walked, and walking was the key, walking had been the only way to convince 73


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them that I was right for the job. Walking prepared you for the new conditions. When you walk somewhere, at such a distance, you invest more in what you will find when you get there. I thought I was lucky. A paid position, a job. But I was not lucky. I wish I had not been first. I wish I had not gone at all. It was difficult to get Samuel to progress much further in his story than this. Sometimes, moved by a need for further disclosure, he gave his audience the name of the estate where he had been employed – somewhere called Raspberry Hill. Other times, he would talk about his employer, a young landowner keen to shoot game and trespassers in his grounds. Then, when the candle flame was low, when night winds rolled fiercely across the bare fields outside, he dropped cryptic hints as to the nature of his employment, its long hours of uninterrupted solitude, its performative nature, the rags he had to wear as a uniform and the mattress of straw on which he slept. He spoke of a glittering cave deep in the estate’s grounds, deep in the woods, at the end of pathways lit by paper lanterns. Never any more than this though, and no coherence to his story. What he had been paid for, and why he had left, remained a mystery. I was not lucky, he said, again and again, and in his twitching gait and the furious intensity of his gaze you saw the truth of what he said. He had not been lucky. Something had happened to him, and he could not shake the ghost of it. Last thing at night, it was Samuel’s responsibility to flatten the flame against the jar lid. In all these curtainless rooms, the wayfarers rolled over and tried to get some sleep.

Tepid water still ran in the taps, but the electricity and the gas were dry. There were vegetables growing wild in what had once been a well74


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tended garden, and there was a stream for fresh water beyond the back field. The house was at the bottom of a decline, well off the road, and could not be seen by passing cars. There was a farm shop two miles away, and their pooled resources had bought them eggs and bread. There were still a few tins of beans and stewing steak in the cupboards. There was no furniture in the rooms. Blankets had been found. If you had a jacket, you rolled it up and used it for a pillow. Everyone had matches or lighters on them, and the fireplace in one of the big downstairs rooms was used for cooking. Dried wood from the forest fuelled the fire. Someone had caught a rabbit in a snare. Others collected roadkill on the tarmac, the harvest of the traffic’s scythe. Some stayed a few days and moved on; others gave the impression of permanence. Some turned up and said nothing, and disappeared the next day. There was no compulsion to talk. Some talked, some listened. Some said nothing, prompting no questions. It was not obvious who had lived here before, or why they had left. He found some crumpled photographs in the back of a bedroom cupboard. A woman, smiling at the camera, middle-aged. A wedding, or the Henley Regatta. Another picture showed the woman on the beach, fully dressed, a British summer. A picture of a car with her at the wheel, rakishly leaning an elbow from the driver’s side window. No pictures of this house or garden, no detail to fix the pictures to this environment. Nameless to these men, who came from every compass point, he was near now, very close. The chance for rest and shelter had presented itself, a base from which he could spike out further into the surrounding lands. The journey was what mattered. As long as he stayed here it would remain in progress. At the end, you would look back and see the thing 75


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entire, its shape and form, and you would be closer to understanding it. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to understand it. It should remain inexplicable, even to himself. Forever formless. It started to rain. The spine of the hot days, broken at last.

There was a veteran of the roads, and he said there was not a time when he hadn’t been walking. If there was, then it was so far back that he had forgotten it. He knew nothing but these lanes. Not a blade of grass from here to the coast was a stranger to him. Coast to coast, he knew it all. His skin was leathery and brown, like a toad’s. He walked through the hottest hours of the day, stripped to the waist, absorbing the worst the sun could throw at him. At rest, he sat outside in the garden, and at night he slept amongst the ruined flower beds. In my early days, he said, it was never like this. Never so hot, but I’ve, what is it, acclimatised. It gets hotter now because the sun wants to beat me – we’re in competition, and I’m winning. Year after year, summer after summer, I take everything it can muster, and year after year, summer after summer, it flexes its muscles and tries to destroy me. That’s why it’s so hot these days. The sun’s angry, because I can’t be beaten. It’s sulking now, that’s why it’s raining. But it will get hotter again. You wait and see. It was still raining, as he spoke. In the windless night, the rain tipped down the glass and fell in sheets against the land. Above the sound of the rain, the violent static, you could hear the roaring of the engorged stream at the bottom of the pasture. The veteran of the roads was preparing for sleep. He cocooned himself in his blanket and lay down in the soil. In the mornings his skin would be so pale and puffy from the damp it looked like a firm stroke would slough it clean from his flesh. 76


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There was nothing like this either, he said, flapping out his blanket. These safe houses, these places. People didn’t come together like this when I was starting. They couldn’t have, even if they’d wanted, there were so few of us. There were no others. Here, I was the only one. And now… Why did you start walking? It was a choice then. You got a job and raised a family, or you did something different. I did something different. I couldn’t stand still. You have to do what you want, for yourself, to keep yourself happy. At least, that’s what I always thought. Now, I’m not so sure… He wondered how far the veteran had walked in his life. Don’t tell me, he thought. I don’t want to know. He feared precise data. It would be like confirming the existence of ghosts, or God, and would take some essential mystery from the world. The benefit of mysteries is that they cannot be solved. They give room for manoeuvre. Certainty is something you break yourself against. And now? I don’t know anything else. It’s still a choice I suppose, or, maybe, it never ceases being a choice. The choice extends, the decision is never just made and discarded, but continues. Does that make sense? A perpetual decision, always unfolding. It’s not like that now, for others, is it? No. I can tell. I’m not adrift, I’m still connected, you know. I read newspapers when I find them, never more than a day or two out of date. I know what’s going on. I’m not sure I do. You take it as it comes. I don’t know. You don’t realise that you’re creating something. I am? 77


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You’re being educated, and education is a kind of creation. You know, he said, this is the most I have spoken with another person for almost twenty years.

A week might have passed. Samuel left one morning, his tobacco tin, toothbrush and a few coins wrapped up in a plastic bag. He said goodbye to no one.

Waiting for sleep, in the short hours before the dawn, he listened to the rain against the glass, the pattering from the broken gutters into the water-stoop. Bed was a blanket on bare floorboards, another blanket, thin, to cover him. Nothing else in the room but this rudimentary bed, no massy shapes to bend the shadows or loom frightfully in the corners of his eyes. The room faced east. Sunrise, breaking through bare windows, woke him early. The rain had cleared away over the course of the night, and when he stepped outside to test the morning he could almost smell fresh growth. The veteran of the roads was sitting on the cracked stone bench at the back of the house. His feet were bare; he writhed them in the dirt. The dull white toes looked like grubs burrowing up to the surface. He was wearing a sun hat, and in the corner of the crown there was a hole through which you could see his matted hair. He nodded good morning, and the veteran of the roads touched his hand to the brim of his hat in reply. To the west from the back garden you could see the town, miles distant. The sun, which had caught up now above the line of the farmhouse roof, laid a shelf of gold against the field. The light caught and glittered from the estuarial waters on the other side, the glinting mudflats, the whirling fractals of seabirds flocking in their thousands. 78


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From the kitchen cupboard and the fridge that didn’t work he took a tin of corned beef and a few biscuits. He filled his pockets and replenished his water bottle from the tap at the kitchen sink. He watched the water froth up around the lip of the bottle’s mouth, considered it, then poured it away. In the bathroom, he shaved with his last blunt safety razor, bought in that long-departed petrol station, that emporium of clean neon and white fluorescence at the side of the motorway. One more weapon against the dirt of conspiring weather. He looked quickly at the stranger’s face in the mirror. There was no plug in the bath, and an inch-thick carpet of dead leaves and mould at the bottom. He took his provisions outside, down a road at the side of the house that led to the adjacent field. He hopped the stile, came by the muddy track to the stream, where he stripped and lathered clean water against his body. He settled into his smell, rich and sweet, like the countryside. As he washed, the smell faded, but it was always there; the background information of it. Upstream, he filled his water bottle. He left the farmhouse and headed to the main road. He told no one where he was going. Off out to scout the territory, to map it in his mind and allow himself to be tugged towards those places that, all things being right, he should start to find familiar. The track led through insubstantial land, liminal space, where the mudflats sparkled under crystal deposits. Alluvial tides brought salt water up to drown the samphire grass. Birds scavenged the waste, dragging their hook-bills, their scimitars, through the dirt. There was no variation in the sky, every yard of it attacked by the same unyielding brush. The rain smothered him. A rusting tourist information sign pointed from the track towards the remains of a Mithraic altar, free-standing in the corner of a field near the 79


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estuary. He followed the arrow and walked along the line of the fence until he came to a small boxed-off enclosure, a patch of grass bordered by a waist-high brick wall. A wooden swing gate gave access to the mysteries. By the gate another sign, much disfigured from long exposure, gave the historical context. In the centre of this patch of grass was the altar, a block of roughcarved sandstone traumatised by two thousand years of rain, placed on this furthest frontier by Roman soldiers far from home. Carved on the front of the altar was the remains of a group of figures, their ritual gestures and symbolic postures smoothed out and indistinct. There was a hollow space on top, a dip in the stone filled with an inch of water. Partially submerged were a few coins, a bootlace, a bloody braid of hair and two short bones lashed into a cross. He was going to take the coins but superstition stayed his hand. At its furthest end, the field melted away. Cows’ hooves had churned the mud to a morass. A water trough gleamed with scum. The rain peppered his skin. He returned to the track and continued along the curved line of the estuary. From land to sea to sky was one indistinguishable wash; all was silent, save the rain.

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81


Sgrìobhadairean Gàidhlig (Gaelic writers)


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SEONAIDH CHARITY Rugadh agus thogadh Seonaidh ann an sgìre Loch Bhraoin is chaidh e dhan sgoil ann an Ulapul. An uair sin, thòisich e air ceum ann am Poilitigs is Feallsanachd aig Oilthigh Ghlaschu ach b’ e ceum ann an Gàidhlig a thug e a-mach aig a’ cheann thall. Ghabh e cùrsa ann an teagasg àrd-sgoile aig Colaiste Chnoc Iòrdain às dèidh sin, agus bho chionn ghoirid fhuair e obair aig Àrd-sgoil Sheumais Ghilleasbuig ann an Dùn Èideann. Tha Seonaidh gu math dèidheil air spòrs, gu h-àraidh rothaireachd. Bidh e cuideachd a’ cluich ball-coise airson an sgioba chliùitich FC Patatas Bravas. A thaobh sgrìobhaidh, tha Seonaidh ag obair air nobhail an-dràsta, mu bhalach a bha a’ fuireach sa bhaile mhòr ach a ghluais dhan dùthaich. A bharrachd air a sin, tha e cuideachd ag obair air sgeulachdan goirid. Eadar poidsearachd, òl agus fidheall Shìonach, tha iomadh dhiofar chuspair a’ nochdadh san sgrìobhadh aige.

Seonaidh was born and brought up in Lochbroom where he was amongst the first pupils to enter the Ullapool Primary School Gaelic Medium Unit. Upon leaving Ullapool High School, he went to Glasgow University and graduated with First Class Honours in Gaelic. He then began teacher training at Jordanhill College, and moved to Edinburgh in August 2012 to take up a post as Gaelic teacher at James Gillespie’s High School. In his free time he is a keen sportsman, particularly cycling, and he also plays football for the world-renowned FC Patatas Bravas. In terms of writing, he is currently working on a novel as well as short stories. Themes covered include poaching, drinking and Chinese fiddles. 84


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Às-earrann bho thoiseach nobhail

B’

ann o theaghlach gu math àbhaisteach a thàinig mi.

B’ e saor a bha nam athair. Fear meadhanach àrd, cho caol ri bior ’s a ghruag gheal an-còmhnaidh air a sguabadh chun taobh chlì. Dheigheadh e a dh’obair a h-uile latha aig ochd uairean is thilleadh e aig a sia is a dhinnear a’ feitheamh ris air a’ bhòrd. Cha chanadh e mòran mu dheidhinn an t-seòrsa latha a bha air a bhith aige, ach gun robh e math gu leòr agus gun robh e toilichte a bhean fhaicinn. An uair sin, chuireadh e air an rèidio, is ghabhadh e èisteachd nan naidheachdan fhad ’s a dh’itheadh e a dhinnear gu socair sàmhach. Chitheadh tu cnàimh a’ pheircill ag obair suas is sìos air aodann mìn, tana, gu slaodach, cunbhalach. Agus mo mhàthair. Cha robh innte ach deisciobal m’ athar. Beagan is deich clachan de chuideam, gun ach còig troighean de dh’àirde. Bha i bronnach, gaolach, mar mharag na Nollaige. A h-uile latha bha i cho suigeartach ri eòin nan geugan, is i a’ bìogail mun cuairt a’ chidsin a’ bèicearachd, a’ dèanamh aran agus a’ goil a’ choire airson corra chopan teatha. ’S ann air sgàth sin a tha e na annas dhomh cho coma ’s a bha i mun dol-a-mach a bh’ agam fhad ’s a bha mi ag èirigh suas. Bha àm ann nuair a dhèanainn dad sam bith a thaitneadh ri mo phàrantan. ’S ann dearg a bhios m’ aodann a’ fàs nuair a chuimhnicheas mi air na h-uairean de thìde a chuir mi seachad le èideadh geal orm, a’ dèanamh 85


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durrghail ann an còisir-bhalach na h-eaglaise, is mo mhàthair gam choimhead, cho pròiseil asam, ’s mo chlachan òir na baga dubh leathair. B’ e sin beatha mo mhàthar taobh a-muigh an taighe. An eaglais. Cha b’ e eaglais dhubh, chruaidh a bh’ innte idir, ge-tà, ach Eaglais Shaslach far am biodh na Crìosdaidhean meadhanach sunndach, somalta a’ dol. Chuireadh mo mhàthair seachad an ùine far nach robh i a’ còcaireachd airson an teaghlaich, a’ bèicearachd airson na h-eaglaise. Bhiodh boireannaich na sràide a’ dèanamh fèill mhòr air cèicichean mo mhàthar agus b’ e adhbhar moit a bha sin dhi. Cha chuireadh i feum air dad sam bith eile, seach a bhith a’ cur a beul ann an gnothaichean na h-eaglaise agus na sràide, airson a beatha a dhèanamh coileanta. Ged nach robh creideamh sam bith aig m’ athair, cho fad ’s is aithne dhomh, cha do chuir dol-a-mach mo mhàthar suas no sìos e. A’ smaointinn air a-nis, tha mi an dùil gun robh e toilichte gu leòr leigeil leatha, cho fad ’s nach dèanadh e dragh dhàsan. Leis an fhìrinn innse, aig an àm sin, cha do mhothaich mi cho dòigheil ’s a bha mo phàrantan. ’S ann a shaoil mise gur e an teaghlach a b’ àbhaistiche is a bu neo-inntinniche a bh’ annainn. Is bha sinn a’ fuireach air an t-sràid a bu shocraiche, shàmhaiche san t-saoghal. Cha b’ urrainn dhomh tuigsinn ciamar a bha iad cho riaraichte an sin. Chan fhaicinn diofar sam bith eadar mo phàrantan-sa agus an co-aoisean a bha air an t-sràid, uile a’ leantainn na h-aon bheatha, gun dragh no aire orra ann. Tha deagh chuimhne agam air an latha a ghluais na h-Adlers a-staigh an ath-dhoras ge-tà. Dh’fhàgadh an taigh a bha làimh ri ar taigh-ne, air an taobh cheart, falamh nuair a chaochail am fear leis an robh e, Mr Williams, le grèim-cridhe. Cha b’ urrainn dha bhean am màl a phàigheadh airson taigh meadhanach spaideil ann an crìochan a’ bhaile, is b’ fheudar dhi fhèin is a dithis mhac gluasad do na tùran mòra 86


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a bh’ air an ùr-thogail air taobh sear a’ bhaile. Chùm dùileachadh ri cò ghluaiseadh dhan taigh mo mhàthair a’ dol fad sheachdainean. Bha i a-mach ’s a-steach dorsan ar nàbaidhean mar sheillean a’ tional a stòr. Mu dheireadh thall air madainn ghrianach Dhiluain, is sàilean brògan mo mhàthar cha mhòr air an caitheamh, chunnacas bhana mhòr ghorm a’ dlùthachadh gu mall ri taigh Mr Williams. Nochd boireannach le falt dualach donn is craiceann dorcha agus fear feusagach spaideil bho cheabain na bhana. Abair thusa gun robh na cùirtearan a’ breabadh an latha ud, ’s mo mhàthair aig an uinneig cleas Anthony Swofford le a prosbaig, ged nach robh a’ bhana ach fichead meatair air falbh bhuaipe. Chan eil fhios am b’ e an coltas àraid a bu choireach no dè, ach cha deach mo mhàthair gam faicinn an latha ud, rudeigin a chuir iongnadh orm air sàillibh cho aoigheil ’s a bha i, agus cuideachd cho tric ’s a bhiodh a sròn a’ cur dragh oirre. Nuair a thill m’ athair bho obair, bha i fhathast a’ gogadaich mun cuairt a’ chidsin. Cha tuirt m’ athair smid nuair nach robh a dhinnear ga fheitheamh air a’ bhòrd. Shuidh e sa chathair dhonn, robach aige ann an oisean an t-seòmair ri taobh preasa nan gloinneachan is leugh e a phàipear. Cha mhòr gun tug mo mhàthair fa-near dha, ach nuair a chrath e am pàipear-naidheachd airson nam preasan a thoirt às, chlisg i. Gun fhacal a ràdh thòisich i air sailead hama a dhèanamh. An ath latha, is m’ athair air tilleadh bho obair a-rithist bha a dhinnear deiseil air a’ bhòrd. Bradan, buntàta is càl – an dinnear a bu docha le m’ athair. Leig i a tòin air a’ chathair mu choinneimh m’ athar is choimhead i air ag ithe. Cha mhòr gun robh an grèim mu dheireadh air a dhol sìos, nuair a thòisich i: “Bhruidhinn an tè ud, an ath-dhoras, rium an-diugh.” “Oh, seadh.” “Eil fhios ’ad dè thuirt i?” “Chan eil, dè thuirt i?” 87


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“Uill, ’s ann a bha mi a’ cur an nigheadaireachd air an loidhne, nuair a chuala mi guth beag socair air mo chùlaibh. ‘G… g… gabh mo leisgeul,’ thuirt i.” “Oh right.” “’S an uair sin thionndaidh mi, is cò bh’ ann ach an tè ud bhon ath-dhoras.” “Uh huh.” “Is thuirt i rium, ‘Gabh mo leisgeul, is mise Mary Adler, tha sinn air gluasad a-staigh an ath-dhoras.’” “Seadh.” “Uill, thuirt mise, ‘is mise Mrs Graham,’ is rinn i gàire an uair sin, ach tha mi cinnteach gun robh coltas caran ciontach air a h-aodann cuideachd, ’eil fhios ’ad air a sin?” “Oh right. Is carson a bha sin ma-thà?” “Uill, seo agad e. Cha robh sinn air a bhith a’ cabadaich ach tacan mun ghàrradh againn nuair a thuirt i, ‘Chan eil fhios agam a bheil fios agaibh mar-thà, Mrs Graham, ach ’s e Iùdhaich a th’ annainn.’” Thog m’ athair a mhala. “Iùdhaich? Oh right.” “Uill, cha robh fhios ’am gu dè a bu chòir a ràdh ri sin.” “’S dè thuirt thu ma-thà?” “Uill, tha nàire orm innse dhut… ‘oh, tha sin math.’” “Ha ha, ‘tha sin math!’” “Ist, cha b’ urrainn dhomh an còrr a ràdh, is mar sin, dh’fhàg mi mo bheannachd aice is thàinig mi air ais a-steach an seo.” “Ò Thì.” Cha chreid mi nach do dh’ath-aithris i an sgeulachd ud fichead turas an latha a bha sin. Chan eil fhios ’am carson a bha uimhir a dhragh oirre mu dheidhinn. Ach, an ath latha, thill i bho na bùthan le barrachd ghnothaichean na b’ àbhaist is thòisich i air bèicearachd. An ceann dà uair a thìde, bha a h-aodach spaideil oirre is bha i a-mach an doras le tiona na 88


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làimh. Bha i air cèic Iùdhach a dhèanamh dhi. “Lekach a th’ ann,” thuirt i rium, mar gun robh i air a bhith pòsta aig rabbi fad a làithean. Cha leig mi leas a ràdh gun robh Mrs Adler gu math aoigheil dham mhàthair às deaghaidh an latha a bha sin. Bha an dithis aca cho mòr aig a chèile ’s gun do shaoil muinntir na sràide gur ann air iompachadh do Iùdhachas a bha mo mhàthair, is chuala mi uaireigin gur e Mrs Greyshkovicz a theireadh cuid de na boireannaich eudach rithe. Co-dhiù no co-dheth, cha b’ e Iùdhach a bha nam mhàthair ann, oir bhiodh i fhathast a’ toirt orm falbh dhan eaglais a h-uile Didòmhnaich, is bhiodh i fhathast a’ toirt orm a bhith seinn anns a’ chòisir, a dh’aindeoin ìsleachadh mo ghuth. Bha mi nise nam sheasamh am measg nan tenors aig a’ chùl. Cha chanainn gun do chòrd seo ri mo mhàthair idir, is bha e cho follaiseach ’s a ghabhas nach robh i cho moiteil asam ’s a b’ àbhaist. Ach, a dh’aindeoin sin, chùm i oirre, gam shlaodadh dhan eaglais mar chat dhan amar, mar gum b’ e nàdar de dhleastanas a bh’ ann. ’S mathaid gun robh uallach oirre mu na chanadh a caraidean: càirdeil ri Iùdhach agus a mac air a’ chòisir a leigeil seachad, is an duine aice a-mach ag iasgach air Latha na Sàbaid.

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CAIRISTÌONA STONE Rugadh Cairistìona Stone ann an Col Uarach air Eilean Leòdhais, ’s tha i a-nis a’ fuireach ann an Gallaibh far a bheil i na neach-teagaisg ’s na ball de Phannal na Cloinne. Tha i cuideachd na craoladair air rèidio, na seinneadair ’s na sgeulaiche. Tha ùidh mhòr air a bhith aig Cairistìona ann an caochladh gnè de sgrìobhadh Gàidhlig airson iomadach bliadhna. Fhuair Cairistìona cothrom sgeulachdan fhoillseachadh ann an dà chruinneachadh o chionn ghoirid, An Claigeann aig Damien Hirst agus Sgeulachdan Eile (Clàr, 2009) agus Saorsa: Sgeulachdan Goirid (Clàr, 2011). Tha i cuideachd air dà leabhran de rosg a chur a-mach, Box of Allsorts (Gasait Steòrnabhaigh, 2002) – sgrìobhaidhean a h-athar a chruinnich e fhèin thairis air bliadhnaichean a bheatha, agus Bàthadh Mòr a’ Bhac (Capercailzie Publications, 2011). Tha i cuideachd air a bhith soirbheachail ann am farpaisean litreachais a’ Mhòid Nàiseanta Rìoghail, a’ cosnadh a’ chiad àite airson sgeulachd ghoirid, rosg, artaigil agus trì pìosan bàrdachd ann an 2012. Tha i uabhasach taingeil airson a bhith mar phàirt den sgeama airson Sgrìobhadairean Ùra 2012. Tha gach cothrom, taic agus comhairle air leth prìseil. Christine Stone was born in Upper Coll on the Isle of Lewis, and now lives in Caithness where she is a primary school teacher. She serves on Highland Children’s Panel and is also a radio broadcaster, singer and story-teller, and for many years has had a major interest in Gaelic writing. Christine has had short stories published in two recent anthologies, An Claigeann aig Damien Hirst agus Sgeulachdan Eile (Clàr, 2009) and Saorsa: Sgeulachdan Goirid (Clàr, 2011). She has also produced two nonfiction booklets, Box of Allsorts (Stornoway Gazette, 2002) – a compilation of her father’s writings, providing an insight to his personal life alongside numerous important historical events; and Bàthadh Mòr a’ Bhac (Capercailzie Publications, 2011) – an account of a tragedy where nineteen fishermen from the Lewis community lost their lives. She has also been successful in literature competitions at the Royal National Mod 2012, winning first prizes for short story, prose, article and three pieces of poetry. Christine is ever thankful to have been awarded a Gaelic New Writers Award in 2012 and for all the support, guidance and advice that this scheme affords. 90


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Cadal Chan Fhaigh Mi

S

guab i a falt bho maoil agus thilg i air falbh aon de

na cluasagan mìn, àlainn a bh’ air cùl a cinn. Cha robh i a’ faireachdainn socrach no cadalach, ’s bha sin mar bu dual dhi aig an àm ud den oidhche. Ghabh i balgam beag den uisge fuar a bh’ aice ann an glainne ri a taobh agus air dhi a dhol na sìneadh a-rithist, chual’ i an aon fhuaim ud air an robh i cho cleachdte – an fhuaim a bh’ air a cuir bhon chadal airson oidhche eile. Chan e gum b’ urra dhàsan a leasachadh. Ri taobh, bha esan na shìneadh, air a dhruim, aodann mar aingeal agus fuaim mar tharbh fhiadhaich a’ sruthadh bho chuinnlean gun stad. Dh’fheuch i ri phutadh aon uair eile ach cha do stad an t-srann uabhasach. Chuir i a h-òrdag fo shròin ach cha do sguir e – fiù ’s nuair a chùm i grèim air bàrr a shròin airson ùine. Stad an onghail airson diog ceart gu leòr, ’s an uair sin thill e, ach na bu mhiosa buileach. Dh’fheuch i ri dùnadh a-mach fuaim an tairbh le bhith a’ lìonadh a h-inntinn le rudeigin eile. Thuit a sùil air dealbh a bh’ aig ceann na leapa. Dealbh shnog, le h-athair ’s a bhràthair nan seasamh còmhla ris an teaghlach aice fhèin. Dealbh phrìseil. Cha robh a h-athair no bràthair a h-athar air an talamh tuilleadh ach bha, agus bhiodh, iad beò na h-inntinn-se gu 91


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bràth. Cò a dhìochuimhneachadh daoine cho tarraingeach? Dhùin i a sùilean, fiamh de ghàire air a h-aodann. B’ e duine air leth carach a bha san dearbh fhear. B’ e bhith tana, èasgaidh a dh’fhàg Coinneach cho buileach dèidheil air ball-coise. Ach, thuit a’ bhuille bu chruaidhe air Coinneach ’s e a’ cluiche airson sgioba an Eilein air feasgar brèagha samhraidh. B’ e fhèin a bha a’ faireachdainn pròiseil. Bu ghnàthach do chrodh a’ bhaile a bhith a’ cruinneachadh aig an loch. Chan e a-mhàin gun robh glasach ùr ri làimh, ach bha bùrn am pailteas cuideachd. Gun cheist, b’ e bò Choinnich a bu ghlice – a’ cnàmh a cìre ’s a’ sealltainn mun cuairt gu socair, le sùilean mòra donn, ’s a’ bruidhinn ris a’ chrodh eile. “Seallaibh! Coinneach a’ cluiche ball-coise air an raon ri ar taobh! Duine cho snog ’s gu bheil mise a’ falbh a-null an-dràsta fhèin airson snotach beag.” Seach gu robh Coinneach a’ strì airson buadhachas, chan fhac’ e ise a’ spaidsearachd gus an do dh’fhairich e teanga fhliuch a’ slìobadh cùl amhaich. Is iadsan a bha a’ cluiche na aghaidh a’ sgiamhail, “Cò leis an dòlas bò sin co-dhiù?” ’S Coinneach còir, gun phriob, a’ cur sgealbag air taigh mhuinntir Ghormail às fàire. Cha robh guth gur ann leis fhèin am beathach, no gur ann air a thaigh fhèin a chaidh òrdag a’ choire. B’ e siud a’ chiad uair agus an uair mu dheireadh a chuir bò stad air an geama glòrmhor. ’S mar gum biodh ise i fhèin a’ cluiche cuideachd, thug i breab chruaidh na cadal a dhùisg i le cabhaig ’s a dhùisg an duine aice cuideachd. “Duda fo ghrian a tha ceàrr ort? Cha leig thu leas breab a thoirt dhomh! Ma tha mise ga do chumail nad dhùisg, chan eil agad ach mo phutadh.” Thionndaidh esan air a’ chliathaich, ’s bha an t-srann beagan na bu lugha airson greiseag bheag co-dhiù. Thòisich ise a’ seinn duanag bheag rithe fhèin na ceann. Bha an dotair air innse dhi gun cuidicheadh seo i le cadal oir b’ e rud snog, sìtheil a bh’ ann airson a h-eanchainn. Thagh i tàladh a chòrd rithe gu mòr agus na h-inntinn chaidh i troimh gach rann. Dhùin a sùilean ’s i faisg air deireadh an òrain. “Carson a dh’èist mi riut?” thuirt i ann an guth thàmh. Ma chuala esan, 92


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cha do fhreagair e. Choimhead i ris a-mach air uinneag bheag. Bha latha ùr a’ feitheamh oirre. A’ suidhe sìos, thuit a sùil air an anart ghrinn, chaol. Ann an ùine ghoirid bhiodh ise na seasamh san aodach gheal, gach fear agus tè ga coimhead, ’s esan a’ cur an fhàinne thana, òir air a meur fada, caol. “Carson a dh’èist mi a-riamh riut?” ars’ ise, uair eile. Cha robh freagairt ann ach anail cùbhraidh an leanaibh àlainn a bha ceangailte ri broilleach, a shùilean beaga dùinte agus fiamh ghàire a’ sìneadh a-mach bho oir a bheul ròsach. Aig an uinneig aon uair eile, sheall i a-mach air fear a gràidh. Bha a shùilean donn air dùnadh, agus bha a chuailean dualach neo-rianail a’ tuiteam mu amhaich. Beul leisg, gun lùths. Sàmhach. “Gràdh geal mo chridhe.” Cagar sèimh. Chaidh na facail bho beul mar mhil. Thàinig an t-àm agus thàinig iad ga h-iarraidh. Cha robh roghainn aice tuilleadh. Nam biodh, cha b’ ann mar seo a bhiodh cùisean. Chuir i a leanabh dhan chreathail, ga phasgadh na phlaide, toilichte nach robh ann ach naoidhean gun aithne. Ach, thigeadh an latha far am biodh fios aige le cinnt air gach pìos de dh’eachdraidh fhèin. Balach beag athar. Mar a gheall i, rinn i a slighe chun na bainnse. Bha esan a’ feitheamh. Duine àrd-inntinneach, dubhailceach, gràineil. Ise a’ dèanamh a slighe gu slaodach. ’S cha b’ urra dhi stad aig an stob daraich. Cha b’ urra dhi innse dhàsan gum b’ esan fear a gràidh, gu sìorraidh agus gu bràth. “Griogair.” Thug an t-ainm fhèin na deòir nan ruith, a’ tuiteam air a trusgan. Ach cha do fhreagair Griogair. A cheann air an stob daraich, gun mhothachadh, gun anail. Gaol dìomhair, toirmisgte air a reubadh às a chèile. Eucoir airidh air peanas. Dhùisg i le cabhaig ’s na deòir aice fhèin a’ sruthadh. Carson nach do thagh i òran aotrom, èibhinn ’s cha bhiodh i mar a bha i a-nis. Feumar gun cuala e fhèin i a’ sèideadh a sròin ’s a’ suathadh a sùilean le nèapaigear beag a bh’ aice fo cluasag. “An ann a’ gal a tha thu? Chàirdean fhearaibh!! Nach tuirt mi riut mo dhùsgadh ma tha mi ga do chumail na do dhùisg? Chan eil feum air domhainn ann a bhith na do shìneadh an sin a’ rànail!” 93


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Chuir e car an taobh eile, a’ slaodadh nan cuibhrigean air a chùlaibh. Dh’fhuirich ise gus na thòisich an t-srann àbhaisteach agus shlaod i a h-uile òirleach air ais, ga pasgadh fhèin am measg nam plaideachan throm, bhlàth. Bha i cofhurtail co-dhiù, cadal ann neo às. Dh’fheuch i ri cuimhneachadh dè eile a thuirt an dotair mu dheidhinn dìth cadail. Thàinig e thuice agus dh’èirich i airson briosgaid ithe le dòchas gun cuidicheadh sin i. Shuidh i aig bòrd a’ chidsin airson greiseag, a’ cagnadh ’s a’ cumail sùil air a’ ghealaich uair sam bith a nochdadh i bho chùl nan sgòthan. Air dhi leigeil na sìneadh a-rithist b’ ann le dòchas a dhùin i a sùilean aon uair eile. “Dè th’ ann son ’g ith?” Cha b’ urra do Chaomhainn bochd Gàidhlig a bhruidhinn – uill, b’ urrainn – ach b’ ann gu math lapach a bha i. Ach co-dhiù, beag ’s ged a bha e, bha an aon cheist na bheul, ceàrr neo ceart. Cha robh latha nach robh a stamag air inntinn, gu h-àraid seach gu robh bùth aig a sheanair ’s a sheanmhair, ’s am measg gach nì annasach a bha ri lorg air na sgeilpichean, bha briosgaidean agus siùcaran. Bha fios againn uile nach e acras a bha cur a’ cheist ach dòchas gu faigheadh esan a làmhan air rudeigin milis, càilear a mhilleadh fhiaclan ach a chòrdadh ris gu mòr. ’S leis na sùilean mòra donn a bh’ aige ceangailte air sgeilpichean nan siùcaran, cò nach toireadh dha rud beag snog air choreigin. Ged nach biodh ann ach glè bheag, bhiodh esan air a dhòigh glan. Balach beag àlainn. Caomhainn. ’S ann aig an àm sin a chuala Caomhainn an abairt an toiseach, is e fhèin gun a bhith ach na bhalach òg. Fhreagradh a sheanair a’ cheist anns an dòigh àbhaistich: “Ubhal an fhìgis agus caolan do sheanmhair.” Bha dùil aig Caomhainn gur e ‘cùl a’ bhìgish’ a bha a sheanair ag ràdh, ’s cha do rinn e càl neo brochan dheth co-dhiù – a shùilean ciùin, dòchasach a’ laighe air Sherbet Fountain brèagha, buidhe, a’ feitheamh airson imleach, ’s cha b’ ann air caolan a bhuineadh do dhuine sam bith, gun luaidh air a sheanmhair, gu h-àraid ’s i na suidhe an tac an teine a’ fighe stocainnean boban. “Stocainnean boban!” Shaoil i gun tuirt i na facail air dhi dùsgadh agus seach gun tuirt, thòisich i a’ gàireachdainn agus ma thòisich, 94


NEW WRITING

thòisich an fhear a bh’ ann a’ gearain. “Gàireachdainn a-nis! Dè dìreach a tha cho èibhinn? Chan urra dhòmhsa a leasachadh ma tha srann agam. ’S a bheil thu a’ faireachdainn fuar? Carson a tha thu ag iarraidh stocainnean boban? Nach dèan botal teth a’ chùis? Gheibh mi fhèin fear dhut ma tha thu ag iarraidh? Nas fheàrr buileach, ma tha mise ga do chumail na do dhùisg, carson nach tèid thu do leabaidh eile, thu fhèin agus am botal teth? Nach e sin a b’ fheàrr dhut an àite a bhith cho luaisgeanach?” Leis an fhìrinn innse, bha i air beachdachadh air gluasad gu rùm eile iomadach uair ach, aig a’ cheann thall, cha b’ urra dhi a dhèanamh. Ged nach cuireadh i a h-òrdag air an trioblaid, shaoil i gur e ciont a bha a’ seasamh eadar ise agus leabaidh eile. Cha mhòr nach cluinneadh i facail a’ mhinisteir aig àm pòsaidh, is e a’ toirt comhairle dhi seasamh còmhla ris an duine ùr aice troimh gach suidheachadh: duilich neo cruaidh, ann an slàinte neo ann an tinneas. An dùil an e seòrsa de thinneas a bh’ ann an srann gun stad? Dh’fheumadh i fuireach ri thaobh ’s cuir suas ris mar bhean umhail, mhath. Chuimhnich i briathran an dotair agus thug i a h-inntinn air falbh bhon a’ chòmhradh gu àite sèimh, ciùin. Seach gun robh a macmeanmna cho beothail, cha robh sin ro dhuilich dhi idir. Shaoil i gun robh i air cladach àlainn, na sìneadh air a’ ghainmhich, ag èisteachd ri gach suaile a’ briseadh gu socair air a beulaibh, a’ ghrian a’ deàrrsadh agus sìth a’ riaghladh. B’ iomadh latha brèagha samhraidh a thàinig sinn chun na tràighe. Bha ainmean sònraichte againn dhuinn fhèin – b’ e Billie Brùchdach a bh’ air mo dhlùth charaid agus Sìne Slìomach air mo phiuthar. Seach gur e mo bhràthair bu shine a bha os cionn chàich, agus fada na bu mhotha nan còrr, b’ e Tòmas Tomadach a b’ ainm dha. Nuair a’ dh’èigheadh esan, bha guth air leth aige a bheireadh oirnn uile ar n-aire a thoirt dha. B’ esan a bha a’ riaghladh ’s a’ toirt seachad gach òrdugh. Nam shìneadh sa ghrèin, ghlac mo shùil tè às ùr a bh’ air a thighinn chun na 95


SCOTTISH BOOK TRUST

gainmhich bhlàth còmhla rinn. Bha i astar bhuam – grinn, donn agus cliùmhor, sùilean dùinte, a h-aodann ’s bàrr a sròin a’ blianadh fhad ’s a bha an cothrom aice. An dùil am biodh ùidh aice annam. Le fìrinn cha bu mhi a b’ eireachdaile am measg chàich – m’ fheusag robach a’ slaodadh sìos oirean m’ aodann. A dh’aindeoin sin, rinn mi mo shlighe gu slaodach agus gu faiceallach a-null far an robh i. Cha robh cabhaig sam bith orm – nach robh fad an latha againn. Chunnaic i nam shùilean a’ cheist a bh’ air m’ inntinn. “Thèid. Thèid mi a shnàmh còmhla riut.” Chan e gun cuala mise i ag ràdh a leithid a rud, ach rinn i a slighe gu oir na mara ’s mise ga leantainn. Le chèile, shnàmh sinn gu h-èasgaidh agus gun fheuchainn gus an do ràinig sinn an t-àite uaigneach, ionad-falaich nan ròn slapach. An sin rinn sinn mire agus leum còmhla, a’ cluiche falach-fead am measg nan suailichean, ar cinn a’ nochdadh air bhàrr nan stuaghan bho àm gu àm. Mu dheireadh thall ’s sinn sgìth, ghluais sinn bhon fhairge gu na creagan blàth, corrach agus shìn sinn a-mach an sin, ri taobh a chèile, sunndach agus aig sìth. ’S ged nach cuala mi a guth a’ faighneachd na ceist, fhreagair mi co-dhiù. “M’ ainm? ’S mise Ròn. Ròn Mara.” “Ò nach èist thu riut fhèin,” thuirt e rithe, ga dùsgadh ’s i a’ snàmh a-rithist ann am muir chiùin còmhla ri Ròn. “Thusa a’ trod riumsa airson a bhith le srann ’s tu fhèin a’ dèanamh fuaim mar ròn mara. Tha sin a’ cheart cho dona ri tarbh! Nas miosa! Cha leig thu a leas a bhith cho cruaidh ormsa tuilleadh!” Ma chuala ise, cha do fhreagair i. Ròn Mara! Thòisich i a’ gàireachdainn rithe fhèin ’s i a’ cur plugaichean na cluasan. B’ e seo rud eile a chomhairlich an dotair. Nach tuirt e rithe a bhith ag èisteachd ri ceòl taitneach, àlainn? Nach do mhol e gun cuidicheadh sin i a thaobh dìth cadail? ’S nach mùchadh e fuaim an tairbh aig a’ cheart àm? Chuir i air an ceòl a b’ fheàrr a chòrd rithe a-riamh. Ged a bha ceòl na pìoba tlachdmhor agus ceòl a’ bhogsa togarrach, cha robh càil coltach ri ceòl na fìdhle. Leis an fhidheall na cluasan, fonn gleusta agus sèimh ga luasgadh gu cadal, shocraich i aon uair eile. Fionnlagh – math air an fhidheall, cho math ’s nach robh banais a’ dol far nach 96


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biodh ceumannan aotrom na dannsa fo smachd agus stiùireadh an dearbh fhear. Oidhche, air dha an dannsa mu dheireadh a chluiche, rinn Fionnlagh a shlighe dhachaigh san dorchadas. Cò thachair ris ach sìthiche. Bha i cho beag ’s gun theab e seasamh oirre ach, aig a’ mhionaid mu dheireadh, dh’itealaich i gu beulaibh aodainn. Bha i an sin mar rud a chithear an leth-bhruadar. “Nach cluich thu dhuinne?” ars’ ise ris. Guth beag, ciùin agus i fhèin cho bòidheach. “Tha banais againn ach chan eil duine ann a chluichdeas ceòl na dannsa dhuinn.” Cha robh fios aig Fionnlagh ciamar a bha e a’ cluinntinn a guth, mar chagar, ach rinn e a-mach gach facal agus dh’aontaich e, gun smaoineachadh, a dhol còmhla ris an tè bheag mhaiseach. “Thig còmhla riumsa,” arsa ise, ’s i a’ dol beagan air thoiseach air. Lean esan, fhidheall ceangailte ri dhruim agus a cheum neo-chinnteach. Mhothaich Fionnlagh gu robh craobhan a’ choille a’ fàs nas motha. Dh’fhidir e gu robh na bileagan glasach a’ ruighinn a ghlùinean. Neònach. Chùm ise oirre. Chùm esan a’ leantainn. Thionndaidh i a bhruidhinn ris agus chuir e iongnadh air Fionnlagh am meud a bh’ innte. Dh’fhàs na craobhan ’s bha na clachan beaga a bh’ air an t-slighe na bu choltaiche ri oileagan. ’S ise – nach i a bha mòr! Ràinig iad beul na h-uaimhe. Lean e a-steach i. ’S nuair a thòisich e a’ cluiche a’ chiad phort, cha b’ urra dha tuigsinn ciamar a bha iad uile cho mòr ris fhèin. Air dhi dùsgadh an ath mhadainn, shaoil i nach robh ach mionaid air a dhol seachad bho chadail i. Shuath i a sùilean agus shuidh i an-àirde. Thog i a’ chluasag bhon làr agus chuir i sin air cùl a cinn, a’ mèaranaich le dìth cadail ach fiosrach nach biodh cadal an còrr ann dhìse. Thàinig gach bruadair air ais gu h-aire agus sgrìobh i sìos facal no dhà anns an leabhar beag a bh’ aice ri a taobh airson smuaintean na h-oidhche. Bha gu leòr aice ann an aon oidhche airson sgeulachd bheag èibhinn. Bò Choinnich, Griogair, Caomhainn, Ròn Mara agus Fionnlagh. ’S beag an t-iongnadh nach robh i a’ faireachdainn ro èasgaidh le h-inntinn air iomrall fad na h-oidhche. Ach, ged a bha i cho sgìth ’s a ghabhadh, bha i air neamhnaidean luachmhor a chruinneachadh a chuireadh i gu feum latha brèagha a choreigin. 97


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Nach b’ ann mar a’ chailleach-oidhche a bha i co-dhiù, a’ dèanamh an obair a b’ fheàrr nuair a bha srann aig muinntir a’ chadail. Cha robh sgeul air fhèin ach chluinneadh i feadalaich sa chidsin agus an rèidio aig stèisean a trì, mar as àbhaist. Gleadhraich uabhasach mar gum fosgladh cuideigin preas ’s gun tuiteadh a h-uile pana agus sgeileid le brag chun an làir. Preas an dèidh preas, sgeileid an dèidh sgeileid. Agus, seach gur e Disathairne a bh’ ann, ’s nach robh e na chabhaig àbhaisteach a’ dol a-mach a dh’obair, chan fhada gus an nochdadh e le cupan teatha dhìse agus cupan cofaidh làidir dha fhèin. Latha ùr. Latha airson suidhe an tac an teine agus beagan tìde a chur seachad a’ snìomh ri chèile gach bruadair, airson an cumail gu bràth ann an sgeulachd.

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Scottish Book Trust’s New Writers Awards programme provides individual support for emergent writers in Scotland. We work with a wide range of talented writers including poets, novelists, short story writers, writers working in Gaelic and Scots and young writers. The work inside is just a sample of what they have been working on during the 2011/12 awards period. Visit our website to find out more about the Scottish Book Trust New Writers Awards www.scottishbooktrust.com Scottish Book Trust is the leading agency for the promotion of reading and writing in Scotland.

“There’s an initial surge of confidence when you receive the New Writer’s Award, and that confidence is important. But really the award is about support. Scottish Book Trust have maintained constant contact with me over the years. They’ve passed opportunities my way, offered advice when necessary, and gave me a right good kick if I needed it. The New Writers Award, to me, has been invaluable.” – William Letford, author of Bevel, Carcanet Press 2012 "Winning a New Writers Award gave me access to a whole range of guidance and support. It's played a huge part in my development into a published novelist, and I'd recommend the opportunity to any writer." – Roy Gill, author of The Demon Parallel, Floris 2012 “The New Writers Awards are helpful in many ways, not least as a great confidence boost, but the scheme's main strength is that the advice and support on offer is tailored to each individual writer's needs. The £2,000 bursary is just the starting point for gaining greater experience, knowledge and confidence through a range of well thought-out opportunities provided by the Scottish Book Trust.” – Wayne Price, author of Furnace, Freight Books 2012 "The New Writers Award provided assistance and support in many ways - mentorship, training, industry contacts, opportunities, and of course money. It also validated me at a critical point in my writing career, where I was moving from prose to poetry and not entirely sure I was writing anything worthwhile in either form. I still wear my New Writers Award like a badge of honour." – Tracey S. Rosenberg, author of The Girl in the Bunker, 2011


New Writing Sampler - Scotland