Pushing Out the Boat: Our Blog
- Introducing Lily Greenall, the new POTB Editor
(Martin Walsh, posted 29 Feb 2020)
- Appreciation of Gerard Rochford
(Judith Taylor, posted 6 Feb 2020)
- Coordinator/Project Manager opportunity
(POTB Team, posted 12 Nov 2019)
- FROM THE ARABIAN NIGHT PATROL TO POTB
(Ian Thewlis (aka Peter Sheal), posted 14 Oct 2019)
- POTB needs your help!
(POTB Team, posted 19 Sep 2019)
- Launch of Pushing Out the Boat Issue 15
(Martin Walsh, posted 25 Apr 2019)
- A Seasonal Bouquet from Pushing Out the Boat
(Roger White, posted 18 Nov 2018)
- Editing POTB: a peek behind the scenes
(Roger White, posted 31 Jul 2018)
- Donnie Ross: Perceiving things differently
(POTB, posted 12 Oct 2017)
- An interview with Sheena Blackhall
(POTB, posted 1 Sep 2017)
- An interview with Stephen Pacitti
(POTB, posted 4 Aug 2017)
- An interview with Heather Reid
(POTB, posted 19 Jul 2017)
Introducing Lily Greenall, the new POTB Editor
posted on 29 February 2020
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Appreciation of Gerard Rochford
posted on 6 February 2020
Distinguished local poet Gerard Rochford died late 2019. He will be much missed. Indeed, as a key member of the original team of volunteers who kept POTB alive when Aberdeenshire council discontinued publication in 2005, we are proud to acknowledge his contribution with this Appreciation by poet Judith Taylor.
Gerard reading his work at a POTB Retrospective in the Blue Lamp in 2016.
It would be difficult – maybe impossible – to write a full appreciation of Gerard Rochford: life led him into so many spheres. He was an academic psychologist and a therapist; a beloved husband, partner and family man; a lover of music and the countryside; a man of deep thought and of wicked, deadpan humour. And he was not only a poet but someone who opened doors into poetry for many others, myself among them. This is the Gerard I want to speak of here.
I first met Gerard, as I first met so many poets, in Books and Beans on Belmont Street. In 2003 he, Doug Gray, and Eddie Gibbons began to look for a place to perform their work to the public. Books and Beans had newly opened and owner Craig Willox invited them to start a monthly poetry night there. And so Dead Good Poets (as it was then called) started, on the last Thursday of the month, with an invited guest or guests headlining and an Open Mic space for all who wished to get up and read.
Initially all three founders shared MC duties: but with Doug and Eddie working outside town the traffic was often a problem for them, and Gerard gradually assumed the mantle by himself. He was a courteous encourager of all comers – I was one of very many poets to take their first public steps in Aberdeen when I took a deep breath and put my name down for Open Mic – and the atmosphere of listening and support he fostered still endures, while his moving but unshowy readings of his own work set a standard to which we all aspired.
Encouraging poets into print was also part of the Dead Good Poets’ ambition. In 2004 they brought out a joint collection, Three Way Street, with Doug Gray’s Koo Press (which he had founded in 2002), and also became more involved in the running of the press, with Gerard editing or co-editing many of the collections, and Eddie contributing artwork and design. Koo Press gradually broadened out its operations, showcasing the work of new poets from the local scene and beyond: in its 10 year existence, it published some 38 chapbooks, many of them first collections, as well as anthologies and even collections of poetry and recipes. All of them were meticulously edited (Gerard’s motto “Delete, delete, delete!” still whispers in my ear when I come to revise my work) and beautifully produced. It’s a record to stand beside that of any small press in the country, and a roster I’m proud to have been part of.
While this was going on, Pushing Out the Boat sent up a flare. An important showcase for North-East writing and art, it had been published by Aberdeenshire Council since its foundation by then Writer-in-Residence Magi Gibson; but the Council was ceasing to support publication, and Magi’s successor, Mindy Grewar, wanted to ensure it continued. Gerard knew its value (he had a poem in the very first issue, as did Eddie and Doug) and was one of those who stepped forward, chairing the poetry selection panel for Issues 5 to 7 under the editorship of Martin Walsh, and contributing his painstaking skills to the copyediting process. As part of that early team he helped to set the high standards that the magazine has sought to maintain ever since.
Gerard’s own poetry very much reflects the man himself: meticulous and spare in its choice of words, but rich with feeling; curious, probing, and open-hearted; light in touch even with tough subjects; and always leaving the reader wanting more. He was a poet above all of the human heart – of love, of loss; of those he knew and those he wished to know better. His work of bringing poets forward into the world continues. And although we have lost Gerard the man, his voice remains with us in his poems, and his work will endure.
Links to poems:
A Poem About Li Po (Li Bai)
My Father’s Hand
Coordinator/Project Manager opportunity
posted on 12 November 2019
Following on from our post of 19th September, we’re delighted to report that Lily Greenall has joined the POTB team as Incoming Editor. Lily is an accomplished writer with experience of editing a literary magazine and will be a great new addition to the team.
But we are still looking for a new Coordinator/Project Manager. Might you be interested?
We are a team of volunteers based in and around Aberdeen responsible for Pushing Out the Boat, North-East Scotland’s magazine of new writing and the visual arts.
This role involves project management of both team and the tasks needed to produce our regular magazine.
You would be joining us along with our new editor in time to help manage an entire production cycle from the commitment to go ahead through to publication and launch of a new edition.
Our coordinator/project manager assigns and coordinates tasks with team members, compiling a schedule of tasks critical to the agreed timetable, and ensuring those tasks are completed timeously.
While an interest in the arts would be a bonus, experience in coordination and project management are more important to fulfil this role successfully. We are a friendly group and the work of the editor and coordinator/project manager is supported by a wider team at and between regular committee meetings.
You can read more about us on our website, especially the About us page. If you’re interested and would like to learn more, please contact email@example.com. After a first chat, the next step would be for you to meet our current coordinator, who can brief you about what the role involves in more detail. She will also be available to help hand over the work to you in a phased way.
FROM THE ARABIAN NIGHT PATROL TO POTB
posted on 14 October 2019
The opening chapter of my political thriller, Arabian Night Patrol, was published in Pushing Out the Boat 14 in April 2017. I’d been researching and writing the novel for several years, but it was still only partially complete, still a rather tender sapling. I’d previously had textbooks and business books published by Longman and Kogan Page, but fiction is even more competitive and with less assurance of publication, can be a dispiriting enterprise. Publication in POTB therefore was encouraging and I’m grateful for the confidence it gave me to carry on and complete the novel.
The POTB extract, The Candlelight Patrol, introduced my setting, a desert oil camp in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War and the genesis of what became known as the War on Terror. It also introduced the main protagonist, Rob, a middle-aged engineer, who’s volunteered for the night patrol guarding the camp perimeter. As fighter jets screech overhead, air raid sirens blare over the call of the muezzin, and duels between Scud and Patriot missiles illuminate the night sky, he wonders what to do next with his life. His wife wants him to come home, but he’s tempted by a more exciting future when he falls for June, a free-spirited American artist. Yet her husband, Rick, is the camp’s powerful security boss, armed and dangerous. As the battle for Kuwait and terrorist attacks intensify, Rob must fight for his own survival.
Arabian Night Patrol, published under the pseudonym of Ian Thewlis, is based on my experience of working in the Saudi oil industry during the 1980s and 90s. Although I had that ‘lived experience’ to go on, as a Western expat, mine was inevitably a partial view and I wanted to give a fuller picture of the Gulf War. Consequently, I explored the conflicting perspectives and loyalties of a variety of Arab characters – including a Saudi detective, a young Islamist technician, an Egyptian manager – under the pressures of war and the threat of terrorism. In a sense the war puts everyone and their relationships to the test.
Reviewers on Amazon have commented on the contemporary relevance of the Arabian Night Patrol. One writes that ‘the novel deals with themes which continue to haunt the Middle East today.’ Another suggests that the novel is, ‘required reading after the recent drone strike against oil facilities in Saudi Arabia.’ Certainly, the geo-political issues haven’t gone away, and the power struggles continue for control of the Arabian/ Persian Gulf and the Middle East oilfields which still power much of the world’s economy.
Arabian Night Patrol was published by SilverWood Books earlier this year and is available in Kindle and paperback editions from Amazon.
POTB needs your help!
posted on 19 September 2019
Volunteers sought to keep us afloat
The Trustees are anxious to ensure early recruitment to these key roles, not only so that decisions can be made about a further edition, but also to maximise the handover period. For that reason, we are now reaching out to the creative community to help us find those new recruits asap.
POTB’s main aim [ie magazine production] is supported by an umbrella project which is a Scottish Incorporated Charitable Organisation [SCIO]. We function in a non-hierarchical, mutually cooperative way, directed by a Management Committee of elected Trustees who carry ultimate responsibility for the project. Alongside them, the Editor, Coordinator and Sales Manager share many of the decisions pertaining to the project and the magazine production and it is for these three positions that we are seeking new volunteers.
Everyone who works on POTB is a volunteer: the individual roles carry an element of autonomy, but use approved methodologies, agreed targets, and close involvement with those in associated roles. POTB has no business premises, the Team Members work from home, online, with occasional meetings in or near Aberdeen. Further background details on what we do and how we operate can be found on our About POTB web page.
The role of EDITOR
This person primarily deals with editorial issues within the team and with outsiders. During the production of a new edition of POTB, the Editor helps recruit, then supports our Selection Panels [Prose, Poetry and Art]; and oversees the team of Copy Editors, working alongside our specialist Scots/Doric Editor and the Consultant Editor [our arbitrator]. The Editor liaises with colleagues eg on the magazine content, the Launch event, etc; and is usually the Chair of Trustees.
The role of COORDINATOR
This role involves project management of both team and tasks. The POTB Coordinator helps assign and coordinate tasks with Team Members. Also, during magazine production, compiles a schedule of tasks critical to the agreed timetable, and ensures those tasks are completed timeously. The Coordinator works closely with both the Editor and the Webmaster to ensure the smooth running of the project.
The role of Sales Manager
The Sales Manager handles the sale and distribution of magazines, and oversees the financial status of the project. To date this role has included building and maintaining relationships with vendors; and maintaining records of magazines [current and previous]; also liaises with regional sales team and the PR/Marketing team.
Of course, this is just a summary of the many and varied responsibilities of these tasks. The role-holders interact and communicate with the Trustees, all the other Team Members, and with outside bodies, as required at various points throughout the magazine production cycle – indeed, throughout the whole project. Ideally, all three are Trustees of the SCIO.
Getting in touch
Would you be interested in joining the POTB team or do you know of someone else who might be? Then do please get in touch with us by email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Or, if you would like further information about these roles and the operations of POTB, then don’t hesitate to send us an email with your queries.
And, if you have any constructive comments on the future of project and directions it might take, please share them with us using the ‘Comments’ link below.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Launch of Pushing Out the Boat Issue 15
posted on 25 April 2019
Sunday 7 April 2019, Phoenix Hall, Newton Dee Village
Great to see so many folk at this year’s launch (we counted 82) – some well-kent, many new and all welcome. Once again the event was held in the inspiring space of the Phoenix Hall, Newton Dee, handily situated for both City and Shire. Fittingly, both Aberdeen’s Lord Provost and the Provost of Aberdeenshire joined us to celebrate the occasion, hosted by our wonderful patron, Dame Anne Begg. And something unannounced on the day: all three editors, since the magazine became a fully voluntary organisation in 2005, were present and helping.
The main focus, as always, was the chance to hear the contributing writers read from their work and to see original images by the selected artists. Issue 15 Contributors had come from far and wide (even Australia!), to meet and mingle with invited guests and the team of volunteers who had worked so hard to bring this latest edition to fruition.
Judith Taylor, one of the three editors, convenor of this year’s poetry selection panel, and talented poet in her own right, presided over the afternoon’s readings. Ian Stephen, award-winning writer from the Western Isles, master-mariner and this Issue’s foreword writer, set the ball rolling with a tribute to the high standard of this edition’s contributions. Then came the readings themselves, with their broad range of genre, mood and dialect. There was Doric in abundance, Scots, Shetlandic, rural USA, and even a hint of old Norse – oh yes and some English too!
The readers lead us on a journey, beginning with that first wondrous step into a book-filled space; then the comic sparkle of a young North-East quine on a holiday visit to Fife; onto the rescuing of a stranded turtle. We heard memories of a herring quine, and the sharp observations of a talented sixteen-year-old poet. Then to a riverbank in China and the menace of what might lurk within its murky waters; the poignancy of letting go a loved one; then to the undaunted spirit of an undersized quine confronting adult abuse. And last but not least in that first half: the tall tale of North-East man spotting the iceberg that sunk the Titanic (though several months later).
After the interval [with more meeting and mingling] came the memory of a past life touchingly woven into the fabric of the new; and an escapee from Rosehearty who couldn’t quite evade her roots. Then to the image of ‘a long line of Harleys ridden by portly Dutchmen down a glen’. A wild girl from rural USA – ‘Ma said she’d grow up to borrow your husband if you weren’t careful – with her pet quetzal bird. We heard, too, of learning to speak Doric at your Granma’s knee and of the magic of a boy’s first excursion to his favourite football team’s stadium; finally, from the smeddum in the tiny body of a dunnock, to the hilarious climax of an ardent terrier.
An afternoon filled to the brim with quality and pleasure; the first-time published standing proudly alongside POTB ‘old-timers’.
For more photos of the launch, check out the launch photo gallery.
A Seasonal Bouquet from Pushing Out the Boat
posted on 18 November 2018
‘ Whatever the weather, wherever you are, make sure you are accompanied for your pleasure and entertainment by North-East Scotland’s very own Pushing Out the Boat.‘
– from Frances Walker’s Foreword to Pushing Out the Boat Issue 12
Elizabeth Waugh [lino print]
As I write this, an October Indian summer has already hurtled downhill past a delayed North-East autumn to the long haul of winter. It’s a time to be reminded of the seasonal riches that lie in past issues of Pushing Out the Boat, our not-so little magazine of new writing and the visual arts now as old as the century – it first appeared in 2000 in, yes, autumn. Our wonderful contributors may forgive me if I slice and dice their precious work to pick out some seasonal gems. Selected extracts only hint, of course, at the deeper issues and bigger stories in their complete poems and stories. You’ll find a full listing of their work and the magazine issue it appeared in at the end of this article.
As autumn approaches, some of our authors sense the softer side of autumn, like Beate Allerton’s
temptation in the autumn mists,
the spices of soft and moist earth
and Angela Arnold’s
… hails of swallows and
then all that black bird-snow of starlings.
Of course, at 57⁰ North of the Equator (Aberdeen) or more, our contributors from hereabouts also know what the seasonal weather brings us, from Robert Ewing’s
and Fiona Russell’s
On a nor-easterly
gathering like a foul temper
That bastard ice wind
to Mary Johnson’s harsh reality that
For sax lang months norland fowk
Thole dreich, dark days and jeeli nichts.
It’s also not surprising in our largely rural area that birds and beasts attract attention. Jean Atkin writes that
In this endless winter at the end
of short afternoons
the sheep know
when I go out to cut holly
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
On ice heave ground I squat to watch
how their brown eyes are split
by horizontal yellow bands, and
I ache for green.
In more comforting mode, Maggie Wallis retrieves one of her hens ‘perched in the rosemary again’:
As I crunch a track over the snow
she makes a sound; that low
contented sound of hens.
I tuck her in closer.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
So many miles we have hiked
this same journey every night.
I and a white hen
Tramping over moonlit snow.
The imagery provides a reminder that not all is harsh in those ‘dreich, dark days’. Christine Laennec records
the soft gentle darkness
of my street in mid-winter
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
my neighbour waving to us
from her golden doorway
a moment’s greeting
before the clicking lock
returns her to the warmth of the fire.
After the excesses of Christmas and Hogmanay many of us, at least in Scotland’s North-East, feel the need like Jen Cooper to clear our minds with a New Year walk by the sea or up a favourite hill
We emptied our thoughts
off Oxen Crag today,
wind froze them to snow.
Finally, we know there’s a long way to go before spring but like Kris Erin Anderson we cope
Fields without flowers,
matted grass, trees too tired
to fight against the wind.
We are not at a beginning
but the middle – grey and silent.
We bury thoughts
beneath blankets and braid
our legs into one.
Whether or not you get to braid your legs into one, Pushing Out the Boat wishes you for the season all that you wish yourself.
Many back issues of Pushing Out the Boat are still available to buy. If any of the work featured here stimulates your interest, you can order copies online here.
This is the work cited in this article, arranged alphabetically by surname of author (and artist). Issues 9 – 13 are available to read in full online.
Beate Allerton, Woman on the Seasons, Issue 6, page 59
Kris Erin Anderson, January, Issue 11, page 5
Angela Arnold, Autumn Move, Issue 9, page 8
Jean Atkin, White, Issue 10, page 6
Jen Cooper, New Year, Issue 11, page 69
Robert Ewing, Drawing oot, in, Issue 6, page 47
Mary Johnson, Winter, Issue 6, page 87
Christine Laennec, Winter Lights Within, Issue 9, page 41
Fiona Russell, Ice Wind, Issue 9, page 28
Frances Walker, Foreword, Issue 12, page 1
Maggie Wallis, Night Walking, Issue 13, page 83
Elizabeth Waugh, Winter [lino print], Issue 9, page 30
Editing POTB: a peek behind the scenes
posted on 31 July 2018
Today’s blog post is an interview with the Guest Editor of the next issue of Pushing Out the Boat – Martin Walsh.
We’re talking to you today, Martin, as Guest Editor of the next edition of POTB but it’s certainly not your first involvement with the magazine. It’s about to go into its fifteenth issue, quite a remarkable record really for a regional writing and arts publication. When did you first get involved and how?
It must have been around 2003/4 that I first heard of the magazine. I liked the look of it and submitted a story. To my astonishment and delight it was accepted, my first ever publication in a high-quality literary journal. That was in Issue 4 (2005). Over the next three years the magazine transitioned from one financed and run by Aberdeenshire Council to a project run entirely by volunteers. I shared the Editor role for Issue 6 (2007) with the previous incumbent and then took over as the first volunteer Managing Editor for Issues 7-9. To be frank, I never felt very easy with the title but we are very much a team and my own deficiencies in the role were more than made up for by the quality and assistance of those around me. So taking on the role again is not quite so intimidating this time. NB I’m also the Sales & Finance Manager, and have been Treasurer, Publicity, and Prose Panel Convenor [as well as general dog’s body!]
And what have been the high (and for balance, low!) points over all those years?
The high points are always those moments when you hold a new edition in your hand for the first time: the culmination and justification for a lot of work and worry. And then there are the Launches when the Team and Contributors come together to celebrate the publication. To see the joy of the newly published contributors [especially those first-time published] is a reward in itself. The low points are probably those of any volunteer group: worrying about how and where to find the volunteers and the energy to keep the whole operation going.
I guess each editor of POTB since Issue 1 has brought their own overall approach to the task. What’s yours going to be and what do you see as the main challenges?
We have now evolved a pretty well-organised system, thanks to the talent within the Team, so that my job is now fairly minimal. I used to worry a great deal about whether we would receive enough quality writing and art during the call for submissions. But, touch wood, that hasn’t been a problem in recent years as we now have an extensive network, not to mention our wonderful website and improved publicity.
OK, so I submit a piece of work for POTB 15. It goes to one of your Selection Panels and is evaluated ‘blind’. How does that work and what’s your role in the process?
Our Panels (prose, poetry, art) are made up of three or four Panellists with a proven reputation in their field. We try to mix age, gender and background in each panel to provide a balance of viewpoints. We also try to refresh each panel regularly. It doesn’t matter to us if you are a famous writer/artist or if this is your first ever submission, the Selection Panellists won’t know who you are so your work will be evaluated on a level playing field. We’re delighted when we accept pieces by first time submitters – and we have rejected works by well known writers. My role is to recruit talented panellists, explain how the panels work and how they should approach the process – then not interfere in the selections other than offer advice.
If you had to give your own personal tips for a submission to get selected for publication in the magazine, what would they be?
That’s a hard one. I have a particular liking for the unusual and for humour but the panels act independently of my preferences. As a general dictum we do ask our panels to select as wide a variety as possible e.g. light/dark, local/global, Doric/English, humour/pathos. To achieve an ideal balance we sometimes have to reject good pieces where we have more than one on a similar theme, a point mentioned in the comprehensive guidance we have evolved – see our Submissions Hints and Tips.
So the Selection Panels have done their work, you’ve got all the prose, poems and artwork the editor wants to put in the magazine. What are the remaining essential steps to getting the magazine printed and how will you be involved in them?
After the selection process, the Panel Convenors, along with our Designer and myself sit down to agree the page-ordering and layout of the magazine. This is an important stage in the production cycle, our aim being to produce a magazine in which the juxtaposition of prose, poetry and artwork [i.e. the running order] provides maximum impact, also one that is pleasing to hold and to look at. The written pieces are then forwarded to our Copy Editors, who put the work into our House Style and may suggest minor changes to the authors. As Editor I am there for counsel, if necessary, plus we have a Consultant Editor as a final resort. Once we have received brief biographies from all the contributors, our layout team prepare the magazine, using a desktop publishing tool. The written pieces are sent to the authors for final proofing, then the whole magazine is transmitted to our printer. The last task, in which several of us participate, is to check the final galley proof.
I know POTB likes to launch each issue at a special event. Any thoughts on how and where you’d like POTB 15 to be launched and when do you expect that to happen?
The Launch will take place in the spring of 2019, most probably in late April, but we don’t yet know where. Ideally we’d like to return to the beautiful Phoenix Hall at Newton Dee, whose community ethos we share.
Finally, not all readers may know, but you’re a writer yourself. Do you have any projects on the go and will the editor’s job leave you any time to work on them over the next few months?
Yes, I am working on three different projects: a fictionalized memoir of my time in Africa; a collection of Latin-American short stories; and an assortment of magical realism tales. There will be moments when my own writing has to take a back seat, but the Editor’s job is not hugely time consuming given our task-sharing structure. There are other wonderful volunteers within the group who bear heavier workloads – they are the unsung heroes of our team.
The interview with Martin was conducted by POTB’s new(-ish) PR manager, Roger White.
Donnie Ross: Perceiving things differently
posted on 12 October 2017
Dr Donnie Ross has been a contributor to Pushing Out the Boat for several years. An ex-medical director of the flagship hospital in the North East of Scotland turned well-renowned artist, he has also been Chairman of Grampian Hospitals Art Trust (GHAT).
How, and why did you decide to start painting?
I started painting when I was at school. I was brought up in Sandhaven, a small fishing village in the North East, and used to spend my spare time drawing boats on the old bits of wood washed up on the shore. This got me familiar with depicting textures in various art forms.
At that time, it was hard to imagine a career in anything creative. For various reasons, I was encouraged to become a Doctor and channelled (most of!) my energy into my professional career.
Actually, I was told off at medical school for drawing in my Anatomy exams! Nonetheless, I had a fulfilling 40-year career in the medical profession.
What inspired you to become a full-time artist?
I was drawing and painting sporadically throughout my medical career, but when I retired in 2003 I built a studio in my garden (it took three years!) and now it’s my full-time pursuit – along with writing, music, studying languages and fighting for justice for NHS whistle-blowers!
I’ve always been fascinated with the way in which we each perceive things differently. This is especially true of art as what one person sees in an image, may not be what another does.
I wanted to produce images which really got people looking and thinking to decipher in a way they hadn’t anticipated.
Although I love representational art, currently I work without any real plan of creating a specific thing – I’m trying to remain unaware of what is it I’m producing. It’s not until I’m finished, and hopefully find something meaningful in the frame, that I crop it to a satisfying point of completion. If I get to that point, it’s a success!
I rarely name my paintings because I don’t want to project what I see into the mind of the viewer. I’d rather encourage people to find their own meaning in the image based on their incoming perceptions and the painting’s ambiguity.
As your medical career was based on science, and facts – how have you shifted your mindset?
As a Doctor, I’ve spent my entire adult life carefully analysing each eventuality to eliminate ambiguity (and risk) as far as possible – which is the exact opposite of what I do whilst painting.
Science assumes that information comes into our brains and we interpret the incoming perceptions moment-to-moment. I don’t think this is always true. I believe we perceive three or four cardinal items in context-based frames of reference, and we project 98% of what we expect to see within that context. Hence the saying, “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind”.
Really, ambiguity is incredibly important to art. As an artist, I’ve had to put my previous reliance on scientific objectivity aside to develop my creative side.
When did you first become aware of POTB?
I actually bought a copy a few years ago, really enjoyed the quality content and submitted my work for consideration for the edition thereafter.
Thankfully, my work was accepted and I was thrilled. It was fantastic to have my work published because, above all else, it validated that others appreciated my art and writing – especially when all submissions are judged anonymously.
POTB is such a great publication – it really is a highly regarded and key medium for artists and writers on the North East’s rich literary and art scene. I’m always proud when I’m lucky enough to feature within its pages.
An interview with Sheena Blackhall
posted on 1 September 2017
Sheena Blackhall is a one of the most prolific writers in the North East – her writing collection is vast, and she’s appeared within several editions of POTB. Most recently she was revealed as one of the one hundred people to be paid tribute to at Aberdeen’s Hall of Heroes exhibition, which will highlight locals who have helped transform the world.
The POTB team spoke with Sheena to discuss all things writing (in Doric too!) and POTB.
How, and why did you begin writing?
My love of writing goes back to primary school – apparently, the teachers thought my writing was great! It gave me such a sense of satisfaction… Until one teacher gave me a ‘clout about the lug’ for switching tense in the middle of a story, so I stopped, for a while…
This passion was reignited whilst I was studying for my teaching diploma – which I only did because I failed my first year at Gray’s School of Art and could just get the funding for a three-year course! The diploma was three years, so that was that. During this time, I wrote children’s stories for BBC Radio Scotland – and I’ve never looked back!
You write many of your stories in Doric, why is that?
It was my first language, and the one everybody spoke. My Dad could only speak Doric, my Mum could speak English due to her work as a secretary during the war and my Grandmother spoke nothing but late 1880s Doric. I had little choice really, they wouldn’t understand my English!
As it’s my mother tongue, I always feel that when I write in Doric its straight from the heart.
Why did you submit stories to Pushing Out the Boat (POTB)?
I saw POTB at various venues and was drawn to it because of the artwork on the front pages – it was refreshing to see artwork featured alongside quality literature and I like the ‘blind judging’ process and concept – so I began to submit a mixture of short stories and poems.
I see POTB as a boost to the Doric language and the culture and heritage of the North East. People like and respect the journal. As it’s a ‘real’ book, it verifies Doric as a language – there’s very few outlets which keep Doric alive.
What work are you most proud of?
Apardion, A Leopard’s Quest! which was published by The Reading Bus and tells the story of a leopard spirit from the Northern Lights. In his quest to discover if Aberdeen should be his place of birth, he visits 14 heritage landmarks and discovers secrets from the past.
You’re incredibly passionate about the power of the written word, why is this?
Writing keeps me sane! It’s such a strong way to express yourself. I actually also hold writing therapy classes where participants can externalise thoughts, and deal with their emotions, their grief and the issues they carry.
Would you encourage young writers to submit work for literary publications, such as POTB?
Absolutely, putting pen to paper about anything is something I encourage in children of all ages – to have the ability to convey a story through a poem, or a short piece of work is such a skill.
POTB in particular is very supportive of young writers; a number of teenagers have featured within its editions, so if you submit quality work – regardless of age you’re in with a chance of being accepted.
To see your work published is such a fantastic thing. That said, it doesn’t always happen on the first, second or even eighth attempt, but when, and if, it does, it’s wonderful to know that people are reading, and enjoying your work.
An interview with Stephen Pacitti
posted on 4 August 2017
Stephen Pacitti has been writing for many years. A retired Church of Scotland minister, he is fluent in Doric and English and writes stories in both languages. We asked him about his writing influences, inspirations and what POTB means to him.
Where did you serve as a minister?
I was born in Aberdeen and educated at Causewayend Primary Shool and the Aberdeen Grammar School before going on to Aberdeen University to study arts and divinity.
My first charge was Dundonnell, Wester Ross, before I moved on to Pollokshields, Glencairn in Glasgow. When I returned from Taiwan I served in the linked charges of Coulter, Libberton & Quothquan and Blackmount.
You spent quite a bit of time in Tawian – how did that happen?
It was through the Church of Scotland Board of World Mission that I went to lecture at Yu Shan Theological College, Hualien, on the east coast of Taiwan. It took a year or two to get over the culture shock, let me tell you! But it was a really fulfilling and life changing experience.
In the early days, when you can’t speak the local language, especially one with the particular difficulties of Chinese, you return to being a child unable to communicate the simplest of things. But after some years there I was sufficiently fluent in Chinese to give my lectures in the language.
When did you begin writing?
I’ve always enjoyed writing. Whilst at Grammar Lower School I was asked to read my three-part short story to the class. I then won third prize in the Debating Society short story competition when I was in third year at secondary, and in sixth year I won the prize for translating verse from Latin into English.
Whilst in Taiwan I started writing a novel, nearly 2000 words a night! I’d keep a journal of ideas and thoughts and transcribe that on to a PC. As my family was still living in Scotland at that stage it helped fill my leisure time.
You’ve featured in POTB on several occasions, what does it mean to you to have your work published in it?
I don’t suppose any author really writes in a vacuum – every writer needs an audience or a readership. For me the important thing is that a story has an effect on the reader, whether it entertains amuses, moves, challenges or informs and I’m very grateful to POTB for giving me the opportunity to be read.
It’s a fine, well-produced magazine with the highest standards. Its occasional gatherings, when works are read by their authors, provide an excellent platform for promoting writing in the North East.
What do you hope to achieve in the future through your writing?
Simply the satisfaction of creating and knowing that my writing has been of interest and has given pleasure to others.
I’m perhaps most proud of my short story Binary System about an elderly man losing his wife. I likened the relationship of the two to the relationship between two stars revolving round a common centre of gravity in what is called a binary system. Those characters just crawled onto the page; I’m told that the story has touched many people. It’s actually written in Doric, and could be quite a challenging read for a non-Doric speaker, but it’s such an emotive story that I feel it was best to write it in that language. English just doesn’t capture the mood in quite the same way.
I’m currently engaged in finishing a humorous novel in English which is about a rather eccentric missionary – many might say it’s semi-autobiographical!
If I can continue to strike emotion in the reader, then that’s what matters – making the reader feel. (That is ‘feel’ in its English meaning, not the Doric!)
An interview with Heather Reid
posted on 19 July 2017
Pushing Out the Boat receives contributions not just from all over Scotland, but from around the world, showing the high regard for our quality content. One such contributor is Perthshire-based, Heather F. Reid. We spoke with Heather to find out more about her journey to becoming a published writer.
What inspired you to become a writer?
I’ve always enjoyed writing. I was actually first published in primary school when I was seven in the school magazine! It was a poem called ‘Red’ which I can still recite. My Mum was incredibly encouraging about my writing which helped too. I’m also an avid reader and the two, reading and writing, often go hand in hand.
On leaving university (I studied at Aberdeen), I moved with my young family to settle in Oban where I was a stay-at-home mum to my two children. At that point, my writing was a form of escapism – I spoke to adults on the page about things I couldn’t talk about during the day at home.
Which type of writing do you focus on?
I started writing poetry but switched to fiction. I’m quite a quiet person but I enjoy people-watching and making up stories about their lives in my head.
Much of my inspiration comes from things I’ve experienced first-hand and many of my stories are set in Oban or places I’ve holidayed. It’s incredibly therapeutic; it’s just finding the time and inspiration for it that’s the challenge!
Do you let others read your work before submitting to competitions and journals?
I’m a member of the Soutar Writers in Perthshire (and was also the group’s chair from 2010 – 2013), so usually I’d ask one of the group to read my work for feedback – it’s important to have another pair of eyes or set of ears!
I’d never let my close friends or family read my stories ahead of them being published. To me, writing is a very personal thing and I like the anonymity of it all.
When did you begin submitting work for the public domain?
I love that stories and poems can spark so much joy in others and I realised that my works could maybe do that too but that, whether or not they would, my poems were no use on my computer – so best to get them out there.
In 2004, I submitted a poem for an Ottakar’s book store competition of which, to much surprise, I was runner up! This boosted my confidence and I began to enter more competitions which also resulted in me being runner up in the National Galleries of Scotland competition in 2010 – the prize for that was a place on a course lead by Carol Ann Duffy.
How did you become aware of POTB?
A fellow Souter writer had been published in a previous edition and brought it to the group’s attention. I hadn’t had much of my work published at that time but loved the journal so thought I’d give it a try. Try I did, and four pieces of my work were selected (the first time that had ever happened, apparently!) – I was absolutely thrilled.
Having studied at the University of Aberdeen I feel such an affinity with the North East so it was even more special.
What does it mean to have your work featured in POTB’s pages?
The journal itself is a fantastic mix of art and writing and it’s lovely to feature alongside the other writers and in amongst their distinctive writing styles. Most importantly for me is the team involved with its production – each of them is so warm, welcoming and encouraging. It’s just wonderful to be part of It.
What do you hope to achieve with your writing in the future?
To finish the novel I’ve been writing for the past ten years!