Am Bratach No. 307
May 2017

by Kevin Crowe

Various writers and editors: “The Tide that Turned in Spring — An anthology of work by young writers in the Highlands”, Moniack Mhor, 2016.

Moniack Mhor is the Highlands’ own creative writing centre, based in Kiltarlity, near Beauly. Opened in 1993, and part funded by Creative Scotland, it provides opportunities for writers to hone their skills, gain confidence and get support from professionals. Its patrons include poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, Scottish Makar Jackie Kay, the previous Makar Liz Lochhead, novelists Val McDermid and James Robertson and artist and children’s writer Mairi Hedderwick (author of the wonderful Katie Morag stories).

As well as its work with adults, Moniack Mhor also offers opportunities for children and young people. These include writing clubs, arts awards, bursaries and work experience. Overseen by Eilidh Smith, its Youth Programme Co-ordinator, last year it produced an anthology of work by young writers from throughout the Highlands. The ages of those published range from 12 to 23. The anthology was also edited by young people themselves, with both writers and editors receiving guidance from experienced published writers. Everyone involved in the production of this excellent anthology deserves congratulations.

What is immediately clear is the massive amount of creativity and talent that exists among young people in the Highlands. Writers from Durness to Islay, from Wick to Macduff, provide us with imaginative and well written work in both poetry and prose, fiction and non-fiction. Sometimes the writers make us laugh, other times cry, sometimes we feel anger, other times fear. In their very different ways all these writers engage both our hearts and minds, often showing skills we would expect from much older people.

The anthology is divided into two sections: poetry and prose. Many of the poems look at the beauty and dangers of the natural environment, often making thought provoking observations. Harry Hird in “The Dangers of the Ocean” writes: “...the point of my life/Is to replenish hunger...”; Dylan Morrison in “The Cliffs of Sango Sands” describes the dangers of climbing the cliffs. In “Beyond the Pane”, by Lia Lewin Read, we see the view from a window. In “The Perfect Isles of Imperfection”, Kirsty Watts takes us on a journey to Rhum and Canna, the latter having “beaches of fresh cream”.

Others use verse to explore their reactions to specific situations or issues. Tia Keith in “The Force Within That Old Mental Asylum” expresses the fear and claustrophobia of being in enclosed spaces, feeling unable to escape. In “I Am Not Afraid of War”, Melanie Maclennan makes clear the inhumanity of war, concentrating on the damage it does: death, destruction, hunger, hate, loneliness. She writes: “I am not afraid of war/I am afraid of my father’s body/in the ground/beneath me.” And later: “I am not afraid of war -/I’m afraid of the sound of it.” There is a warning in Callum McNair’s “Technology”, a warning we should all heed: “technology can inspire/but also imprison”. Emily Shread’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” is a reflection on isolation and loneliness.

The work in the prose section is of an equally high standard. In her powerful and moving piece of family history, “Great Gran Mary and Great Granddad George”, Brooke Jane Callender describes their wartime experiences, cleverly imagining them telling the story themselves. Age is also the subject of Sarah Cairney’s “Special Project”, where she puts herself in the mind of an elderly person with dementia.

I have long enjoyed the darker side of fiction, and there are several stories here that explore death and the fear of it. Arachnophobes would be well advised to avoid Charlotte Luke’s “Invertebrate”, which describes the effect a spider in the ice cream has on a dinner party. In “The Depths of the World”, Kirstin Ganson describes a drowning off the coast of Florida. There is also a drowning in Isla MacDonald’s “Floating Violets”, but here it is suicide. In “Today is Monday”, Gemma Flett gets inside the head of a young girl in a coma. Chelsea Eastcroft’s “The End” is an atmospheric, graphic and frightening account of a murder. With writers like these, the future of Tartan Noir is secure!

Fantasy is also featured. In Michelle Ross’s “Miss Invisible”, the Mona Lisa is helped to escape from its picture by a witch. The use of the second person — you — in Carla Apel Osborne’s “Reality is an Illusion” makes this dark story all the spookier: it is as if she is speaking directly to the reader.

In contrast, Paige Rosie’s “Moniack Mhor” describes the beautiful location of the writing centre in an imaginative and unusual way. In such descriptions most people tend to talk about what they see, but because vision is restricted by the fog, Paige concentrates on the other senses: sound, touch, smell. I particularly liked her description of the rain: “I could feel each individual raindrop falling on me and creating a small puddle of crystal water in my hand.”

I wish I had the space to refer to each of the pieces in this fine anthology, rather than just a selection. One thing is clear: the future of Scottish literature looks in good hands.


CLICK to buy a postal subscription online

Go back to Home Page