On this page Scottish island mum will be sharing some of her creative writing. This will include examples of short stories & poetry. xx
He wore his sailing cap
A man crept through the door hoping he would not be seen, but I saw him. He wore a sailor’s cap and he wore it very well. He always wore his hat and I knew that. I didn’t know anything else about him but I wanted to know so much more. He looked around the room using his cap to hide his eyes. He didn’t see anyone he knew and he seemed pleased about that. He relaxed then and looked out of the window, out to sea.
The waitress approached his table and he tensed. He stretched his arms either side of the table and held on. What was he holding on to? He gave his order in a quiet apologetic voice and then he smiled. What a perfect smile. It spoke a thousand words and it spoke a lifetime. He was old but he didn’t care and that, I think, is rare.
His scone and tea arrived and he instinctively took off his cap. Why did he do that? With a wonderful sense of routine he unfolded his paper napkin and prepared his scone and poured his tea. I watched the ritual and he watched the sea. His eyes barely left it the whole time, almost as if he was feeding off its life force.
He has a gentleman’s handkerchief in his top pocket and that told me he came from a different time. A time when things were done properly. His curious eyes left the sea and rested on the art work on the walls. I wondered if he liked it? Then he fixed his stare back on the sea. I left him there with his eyes fixed on the sea. He was just where he should be.
For every second….
To wax and wane is to live and breathe
To take deep notes and share the earth
For every second there is a moment
When life stands still and you wonder why
To stretch and grow is to pierce the sky
To see the words unravel and curl
For every second there is a moment
When we know the answers blazed with fire
To forge and strive is to change the world
To give and take but not onside
For every second there is a moment
When all around seems anchored and coiled
To sleep and dream is to stare out loud
To chase your moon across the sky
For every second there is a moment
When all around seems still and quiet
To wax and wane is to live and breathe
To chase your moon across your sky
This first story was discovered on the Isle of Eigg.
Walking with the land
They will all be home soon. Wet from a day in the fields and complaining of hunger. This is a typical day and a typical complaint but I have the stew on and the bread is almost ready. I am not sure that it will feed all their hungers but it will help. The long summer evenings are my favourite as we get to spend time together playing cards and chatting. I think this will be our last summer together as Evie will be married come autumn and Charlie is talking of leaving the croft to find his fortune. There is no fortune in crofting and there never will be so maybe he is right to leave. He talks of farms in the highlands with machines to cut and stack but I think these are in his dreams. He will, no doubt, find it different on the larger farms and perhaps not so friendly. Crofting on Eigg is friendly for the most part and we help each other out when needed. I can’t imagine that happening on the big highland farms.
I am sitting by the range watching the stew bubble and waiting. It is a warm evening and I can smell the honeysuckle and the feverfew by the back door. These are my summer smells and I would be lost without them. Monday is washing day and I am pleased it is all on the line as it is back breaking work and I am tired. My hands have that crinkle look and I have no balm to soothe the redness.
Evie has been in the next croft looking after wee ones all day so will be glad to be home. I saw her earlier tramping across the wet fields to the shore with one child on either hand. Her skirts will be wet and I do wonder why she bothers. Except that Evie loves the shore and when she is married she will live even nearer and that will make her happy. She will be a crofter herself then with many duties to attend to and I will not see her very often. This family is changing and soon it will only be me and the man left.
I can hear the sheep so they must be moving them to higher pasture because I can hear Rex barking at them. The man will be cross as he can’t stop Rex barking and I tell him no one can. It is what he does. A female blackbird chirps at the door and I get up to take the old breadcrumbs out and scatter them on the step. Standing, looking out, I can see most of the dusty track that will bring my family home and I can hear the summer waves. My soul is wrapped up in this island and I had hoped that would be enough to keep my children close by. I thought they would walk with the land and never leave but Charlie has always wondered why. Why do we live here? Why do we not want more from life? These are the questions that will see him on his way one day soon and there is nothing more to be said on the matter. Of course, the man will miss him and I don’t know how he will manage the croft. The McDonald lad in the old croft on the shore is old enough to come and help and has no working croft of his own to tend. Crofts are dying out as people leave the island in search of something better. Likely that the man will give the boy some work in exchange for two meals a day and some fresh vegetables for his mother.
The blackbird sings her evening tune as she finishes the last crumb and flits off to find her mate. Me and the man have been married 26 years this winter solstice and I think it has been a good marriage. We each knew our place from the start and neither of us are prone to complaining unless he is hungry. Stepping back into the kitchen I gently stir the stew and check the bread. I move to the cupboards to pull out the jug of beer that will soothe their day away just as I hear voices. They must be on the lower path now and will visit the washroom first so I have just enough time to set out the plates. We were given these plates 26 years ago as a wedding present from my aunt who lives in Fort William. She didn’t come to the wedding but she sent plates that are now a bit chipped and cracked but should still see us through.
‘Evening ma, got any scraps for Rex?’ I hand him a dish with the scruff of the bone and he settles Rex his kennel for the night. The dog will be tired today as it is a fair job moving sheep from pasture to pasture. Evie arrives in the doorway with wet skirts and looks to me as if it is my fault. I have had a towel and skirt warming by the range for her and pass them to her without a word. She disappears to change before returning to hand me her wet skirts and boots that will dry by morning. The man is the last to appear having washed the day from this face and hands. Nothing is said because nothing needs to be said. They all sit at the table and I lift the stew pot to the table and serve before passing round the bread. Charlie’s takes too much bread as usual and the man glares at him as he eats his stew. There isn’t much meat in this stew because we haven’t sold a beast for a while but they don’t seem to notice and within minutes it is all gone.
‘No seconds today?’ bleats Charlie as I start to clear. ‘Not today son’ I respond.
‘I bet I’ll get seconds at my new farm in the highlands’ he says.
‘I bet you will’ I say as the card deck is laid on the table.
There is a story to be told from the isle of Eigg. It greets you on arrival and travels with you as you discover the island and the people that call it home. From the very first footprint you know you are somewhere special. A land that has seen many footprints come and go and a few who stay and become islanders. A single track directs you round the island and as you walk the land watches. There is much it will notice as your footprints move from road to bog and onto shore. There is much it will hear as questions are asked but answers not given.
In my journey on Eigg I was blessed to have the very best company. She joined me on my second day and travelled with me until my last footprint on the land. In her heart she sang the songs of the land that captured a rhythm to life that was surviving in a new place and time. She told me stories of a life connected to the moving shorelines and the deep sea storms. A life where young became old while the land still watched. The watching is important because it ensures the island controls and demands and it is for all of us to follow.
A heart that can be found in an ageing croft hidden behind a leafy tree. A croft that speaks its own tale but shares no secret and a place she calls home. I sat in her chair and wished for some warmth from the fire that had long been extinguished but not forgotten. As I sat she spoke with the quietest voice that was impossible to ignore as its presence was so very alive. Slowly, but with clear intention, the tales began to unfold. At times there were so many they began to trip over one enough in order to be heard. All the while I sat quietly and listened as the room refused to warm and the light refused to shine.
A mother quite forgotten by time but not by the islanders who left her life in transient form for us all to visit. The chair grew hard and my bones tired but I was knew that these were her bones so I sat quite still. The tales told of her daily chores and her red sore hands but of washing drying on the land. The day stretched out before me and seemed so long until the family returned from their working day and a summer evening was set. As day turned to night the sunset over Rum signalled the need for sleep for the morning would bring another day. She was last to rise from her chair and I rose with her. As the door locked behind me I held her hand for the path was slippery and she knew the way.
It was a way that I followed as I met with islanders from this time that live in Cleadale and croft the land. I felt her approval as chats turned to the land and all that it might still offer. Her hands remained red and sore as we walked to the shore to watch the cattle cool their hooves. We walked to the shore and we walked the land and we never once looked behind us because she knew what lay back there. As the gentle summer waves lapped the shore her tales turned to the winter storms and the angry sea and I began to understand. Rum disappeared in clouds and still she talked and still I listened. I would listen until the end.
The final sunset became the next day and she met me to say farewell. In the tea room by the pier she sat to one side and smiled. Islanders were chatting and the chatting had great purpose. They were the guardians now and she knew it. When it was time to leave I turned to hold her hand but she had gone. She was no longer here and I felt the loss as my final footprints left the land. She would be back in her chair with her bones growing cold. As I turned to have one last sight of the Isle of Eigg I knew I had walked with the land.
If these tales have inspired a visit to the most beautiful of islands then don’t delay. Set your compass by the fair winds and sail into the most memorising of places with the deepest soul of them all. The isle of Eigg stands alone as a beacon of how to live life lightly….to tempt you still further watch Scottish island mum’s short film.
Eigg is part of the Bothy project and has a brand new Bothy available for self directed artist residencies. Sweeney’s bothy is available for £200 per week. It is well worth consideration.
If you want to stay in one of the wooden cocoons that was shown in the film they are an absolute delight. Scottish island mum says ‘it was in my little cocoon that I did some of my best thinking.’
The air escaped from my lungs – a short story.
I’m turning for home. I am ready to go home and I am not sure why it has taken me this long. I have been away a life time, but yet a heart beat. They have always been in my thoughts but I have not been ready before. I am ready now.
The day I left started as a normal day in the hectic lives we lived. Hattie and Jake were arguing over the cereal box free gift and Mark was searching for his keys and bemoaning how late he was. In that second I entered a new space. I was not in my kitchen and I was not surrounded by my family. I was quite alone. I could not see my new world, I could just feel it. In the next second I was, once more, back in my kitchen that bore witness to hectic morning after hectic morning. As Mark flew out the door screaming at the children to get in the car I moved to the front door. I could see them all from there and I could wave. I was waving goodbye.
The next few hours are not clear in my mind. I know I tidied away the breakfast things, I always clear up. I hate mess. I know I took my keys as I walked out the door. Did I think then that I would, one day, be back.
The days that followed were much clearer. I drove for miles and miles until I could drive no more. I booked into a hotel and I just waited. I am not quite sure what I was waiting for but I waited nevertheless. I waited until I could speak again and I waited until I could breathe. Slowly, quietly, I could feel the breath return into my lungs and I took shorts gasps just to feel the air as it moved around my body. The first day I spoke was to ask for directions in this new and strange town that I found myself in. I wanted a newspaper. I wanted to find out what was going on in the world. As I walked back to my hotel I saw an advertisement for a receptionist. I had worked as a receptionist before I had the children. I could do that again, I knew I could.
I spoke at my interview and I was surprised at how well I spoke. But when they asked the question ‘do you have any family?’ I said ‘no.’ Why did I say that? Did I no longer have a family? Had I given them up? I must have said some right words because I got the job and started almost immediately. Over the next few days as I encountered new and strange people at work I invented a whole new life for myself. I was single and had previously worked in a library and I was looking for a fresh start. I heard a couple of the girls whispering about me and they assumed I had a failed relationship so I let them.
Was my relationship to Mark a failure? I was not sure so I waited some more. I waited every morning as I walked to work and I waited every evening. I had managed to find a room in a house not far from where I worked. It was more of a granny annex attached to a house and I was pretty much left alone. I liked being alone as I could wait in peace. I never once touched our bank account or called anyone from my old life. I didn’t want to be found, just yet.
My life settled into a routine. I was careful not to become too friendly with anyone because I didn’t want a social life. I had a social life in my old life and it choked me. The endless chatting about nothing important filled me with dread every time I saw one of them in the street. I would smile, but behind my eyes a different emotion was brewing. I hated all of them, every single one of them. I hated their moaning, I hated their selfishness and I always hated their latest hair cuts. I hated it all and I was glad it wasn’t in my life anymore.
My new life offered me so much more. I could wake to just the sounds of the day, instead of shouting and arguing. I could take my time over breakfast and I could walk to work. I was useful at work and I felt content in that. I smiled at all our customers and went out of my way to be helpful and accommodating. When my helpful day was over I walked home the long way which took me to the river. I loved the river. Over time I could see the seasons changing and leaving their mark on the river. As it wound its way through the town it paused every so often to imprint itself on our place. I listened to the story of the river and would pause quite often to see its charm. It was in those brief moments that I would see their faces. Hattie’s always arrived first with Jake right behind and I smiled at them and said ‘hello.’ I hoped they could hear me.
When they were born I was suspended in time for days as I tried to come to terms with being a mum. Not a mum of one baby, but two and so far out of my depth that I thought I would cry forever. I cried for days and then weeks but eventually the tears were replaced with half smiles and then proud beaming smiles and I knew I had found the joy of motherhood. That feeling of joy carried me through so much and I rather depended on it. I realise now that I had taken it for granted. Slowly, from the edges that feeling was under threat. It was threatened by a new set of feelings that began to erase the joy. These new feelings asked me questions all the time. So many questions that would never stop, even at night. I would lie awake listening to sleep all around me, but still the questions came. Eventually, I had the courage to start answering the questions but I did not like my answers and so would whisper them quietly for fear I would hear them.
Weeks, months and years had passed like this and I am not sure I smiled once all that time. My mouth smiled and the world believed it but my heart never smiled. My heart was heavy and I became tired of carrying it around all day, every day. Just occasionally I would see something and my heart felt light again. Hattie sharing a moment with her twin or Mark cutting the grass. But mostly my heart weighed me down and became a burden.
My new life trundled forward and months became two years. I managed to stay alone and distance people from me and I managed to live. That was important because I had forgotten how to live before I arrived in my new place. Springs turned to summers and summers to autumns and then the winters. The winters were cold and the river left such a sad imprint on the town during those months. I stopped walking along the river then and waited for the spring to arrive. It was after the second winter, which was particularly long, that I became desperate for the spring. I wanted to, once again, walk along the river. I wanted to see the nests being built and I wanted to see the green shoots poking up through the water.
At last the spring did arrive. I heard it very clearly in the bird song. What happened next is unclear again. All I know is that I was driving. I was driving home. The miles stretched out ahead of me and time seemed to stand still as I drove my car along the roads that led me home. I was ready, I knew I was. I could see all their faces now. Hattie with her cheeky smile, Jake with his cross face and even Mark was looking at me. He could see me, I knew he could and I could see him.
As I turned the corner into our street I just stopped by the side of the road, some distance from the house and waited. I waited for them to come home and I waited to be with them once more. As their car pulled into the drive I could hardly breathe. My breath was starting to escape from my lungs. I saw Hattie first as she tumbled out of the car with Jake close at her heels. Her face had changed and Jake had grown so tall. I heard Mark’s voice as he stepped out of the car. I couldn’t see his face as he fumbled for his keys and opened the front door. The door that I used to stand at and wave them off. They all walked into the house and the door closed. I had no breath left. I started my car and slowly, very slowly drove past the house. I kept driving and I didn’t look back.
I could follow you I would
I knew my heart I would not stay
I left your body it would scream
I watched your face it would cry
I heard your voice it would break
I felt your skin it would weep
I saw your mind it would wander
I touched your soul it would bleed
I held you tight you would die
If I knew my heart I would not stay