Christmas Writing Workshop – November 2020

At the end of an unusual year, nobody was holding their breath that Lockerbie Writers would be able to meet up before Christmas … but in fact, that was exactly what happened!

Keep reading to the end to sample a few of the pieces of writing which were produced on the day!

Following discussions with Dumfries and Galloway Council and the venue Somerton House Hotel to ensure that we were doing everything within the relevant government guidance (correct at the date of the workshop) and as COVID safe as possible, it was a delight on my part to be able to finish 2020 by planning a small writing workshop for group members.

Sadly I was unable to attend in the end (ah, the joys of such an unpredictable year), but Lockerbie Writers’ PR Manager Paula Nicolson has kindly put together a few words about the day.

Thank you to Paula, and also to the group’s chairperson Steph Newham for providing the photographs.

‘Christmas Writing Workshop’ by Paula Nicolson

The sound of pens scribbling and brains whirring could be heard at the Somerton House Hotel, Lockerbie, on 27th November 2020 at a Christmas creative writing workshop for Lockerbie Writers.

It was the first time the group had been able to meet since March, albeit socially distanced.

It started with a sensory piece describing ‘I know it’s time for Christmas because I …’, and then followed by the creation of an acrostic using ‘LET IT SNOW’. The final exercise was editing an opening paragraph to a gothic novel. Members enjoyed the chance to stretch their fingers and minds, create new work and also receive constructive feedback in person.

Some of the feedback received was:

‘Enjoyed meeting up again. Great doing some work and listening to others. Nice to stretch my imagination; I’ve missed that.’

‘Actually hearing the works of other members read out was very beneficial.’

‘A very enjoyable morning spent with Lockerbie Writers. Informative workshop which included some Christmas prompts.’

The workshop was then followed by a delicious three-course lunch (again socially distanced).

The group are grateful for funding from Muirhall Energy that helped this workshop to take place.

Thank you to Paula for providing an account of the day.

I’d like to finish with some of the writing which was produced at the workshop. Kath’s piece is an acrostic poem produced to the phrase ‘LET IT SNOW’, while Christina’s piece explores the sensory memories associated with Christmas. Thank you to both for contributing!

The Joy of Harmony by Kath J. Rennie

Love’s Holy Christmas spirit
Engages all in its grasp
Threading souls together,

Inviting is spirit’s enchanting ask,
To each, create a tapestry

Stitched with significance and care,
Notable moments of this time of year
Outwith ourselves at times, aware …
We are as one – in harmony.

I Know It’s Time for Christmas Because … by Christina Openshaw

I see … shops decorated in October.
I smell … perfumes in the air.
I feel … aggravation – it’s October!!
I taste … fresh mince pies.
I hear … Christmas music again and again and again.

Thank you to everyone who attended, and to everyone who helped to make this possible, including Lockerbie Writers’ Steph and Paula, the Somerton House Hotel (who were fantastic), Dumfries and Galloway Council, and funders Muirhall Energy.

I hope you had a very merry Christmas, and wish you all the best for the new year. Hopefully it won’t be too long until we are free to meet again as we used to – or, at the very least, to organise another of these special socially-distanced workshoped.

– Kerrie McKinnel, Events Manager

Book Week Scotland Poetry Safari – November 2020

Have you ever been on a poetry safari?

In November 2020, residents of Lockerbie and the surrounding communities had the opportunity to do just that!

If you missed the safari – or you visited and would like a chance to see it again – keep reading for photos as well as special insights into the poems …

Please Note: Photographs of individuals are copyright of the photographed individual. Photographs of the nature reserve and poems are copyright Kerrie McKinnel 2020. Words are copyright of Kerrie McKinnel 2020, except quotations and feedback which are copyright of the individual contributors. All rights reserved.

About the Project

To celebrate Book Week Scotland (BWS), Lockerbie Writers group teamed up with A Novel Approach writing group and local poet Eryl Gasper-Dick to produce nine new poems.

Welcome to Lockerbie Wildlife Trust Eskrigg Nature Reserve!

Book Week Scotland takes place every November, and is coordinated by the Scottish Book Trust. The aim is to encourage and promote reading and stories, with events taking place in communities across the country. In 2020, this week ran from Monday 16th to Sunday 22nd November inclusive.

For the second year in a row, Lockerbie Writers were successful in their application for support from the Scottish Book Trust, and were able to put on an event for Book Week Scotland. Due to the restrictions of 2020, Lockerbie Writers’ Events Manager Kerrie McKinnel opted to try the group’s very first poetry safari.

One of many first steps was to approach an illustrator. Rob Crosbie, a local illustrator, was chosen to produce a map (above) and bespoke illustrations to go along with each poem.

The Poetry Safari in Photographs

The poetry safari consisted of nine poems, which were displayed on a 3km one-way route around Eskrigg Nature Reserve, Lockerbie. Free to view and with no booking required, we can proudly say that we were one of the few projects during the year 2020 which were able to go ahead!

The first poem on the poetry safari route was ‘The Fourth Sister of Eskrigg’ by Paula Nicolson (pictured above). As Paula writes on her blog, the poem was “inspired by a row of trees at Eskrigg Nature Reserve nicknamed ‘The Four Sisters’ by visitors, and also by natural burials and their symbiotic relationship with trees that mark a grave.”

The poem is the first of several within the project to deal with death. When exploring the theme of “future”, some poets chose to examine the idea of a lost or altered future. In this poem, one life has been cut short but other lives go on, with wildlife continuing to grow and thrive around the person’s burial site. The illustration which accompanies the poem is of the row of four trees which used to stand at Eskrigg.

For more about the poem and to read it in full, click here.

Paula is Lockerbie Writers’ PR Manager, and a member of A Novel Approach. She blogs at: https://deckywritingsheepslife.blogspot.com.

The second poem on the safari trail was ‘All That I Have Lost’ by Kerrie McKinnel. Written in villanelle form, it uses a strict rhyming pattern and repeated lines to build the tension, until the reader realises the poem’s meaning in the final lines. The poem was written to mark Baby Loss Awareness Week, and explores the loss of an imagined future.

Kerrie (pictured above) commented, “I have Eryl Gasper-Dick [who worked with the group to provide feedback and constructive critique] to thank for the structure of this poem. My first draft was emotional but jumbled. When she suggested the villanelle form, it completely reshaped the poem and made it much more powerful. Thank you Eryl!”

Kerrie is Lockerbie Writers’ Events Manager, and a founding member of A Novel Approach. You can find out more about her writing, upcoming workshops, and publications at: www.kerriemckinnel.com.

Lesley Bradley’s poem, ‘Mycelium Memoirs’, was the third poem on the route. Lesley is pictured above. The first verse of the poem is deceptively cheerful, with images of a dog running through a rich and beautiful forest. The illustration which accompanies this poem – a red bug on a mushroom – was inspired by the strong imagery of “ruby bugs” and “spongy mushrooms, spangled and slimed”.

The poem takes a dark turn in the second verse, which catapults the reader forwards to the year 2030. As part of Book Week Scotland, the group were provided with a number of prompts on the theme of “future”, which Eryl Gasper-Dick covered when she produced a bespoke video workshop for the group back in August. One of these prompts asked the writer to imagine themselves in the same location but years into the future – an idea which Lesley has used to produce this powerful poem.

Lesley is a member of A Novel Approach. For more about her writing and art, visit: https://a-quieter-world.com.

Fourth on the poetry safari route was Christina Openshaw’s poem, ‘My Home’. Written from the point of view of a squirrel, her piece was more playful in tone than many of the others on the route. Christina is pictured (above) with her poem. “Note the fir cone I’m holding,” she said. “Coals to Newcastle comes to mind.”

While the poem topic was happy, light and easily understood, Christina’s language – deliberately chosen to sound as if it was in the squirrel’s voice – tripped a few people up! Verse four reads: “When the two leggers / are walking below / alone they’re alright / but I don’t like their four”. While most readers seemed to enjoy this image, there were a couple who didn’t quite catch on to the fact that the “two leggers” were the humans, and “their four” referred to their dogs! What a clever play on words from this clever poet!

Christina is a member of Lockerbie Writers.

Fifth on the route, and halfway round the 3 km walk, was ‘Beyond the Butt’ by guest poet Eryl Gasper-Dick. Local writer, tutor and poet Eryl (pictured above) agreed to help with the project early on. As she is not a member of either Lockerbie Writers or A Novel Approach writing groups, she came on board in an impartial role.

Along with providing a bespoke video workshop on the Book Week Scotland theme “future” and the various writing prompts and guidelines involved in the project, Eryl also read and provided critique on two drafts of each poem, and happily offered additional feedback and support to any of the poets who felt they needed a little extra help along the way.

Eryl’s imaginative and highly-visual poem takes us to the highest heights, overlooking the forest. Its unusual structure on the page ties in beautifully with the images and unsteady feeling of being on a precipice.

More information about Eryl’s writing and work can be found at: https://curiousauthenticink.com.

Our sixth poem, ‘Come Walk with Me where the Wild Raspberries Grow’, was nestled in the heart of the forest trail. Poet Carol Price used the woodland setting to explore the theme of grief. “Stand still for a while and listen,” she writes in the highly-visual first verse. It feels as if every element of the surroundings are included in the descriptions, from the squirrels, hawthorn berries and sunshine, to the raspberries which feature in the poem’s title.

A change of tone comes in the second verse, which reveals that the speaker is making a promise to a departed relative – that they will share the woodland beauty with the grandchildren who have been left behind.

“I will show them your love in the seasonal shifts,” she writes in the poignant final lines.

Carol, a member of A Novel Approach, later expressed her gratitude for the project. The poem, which is dedicated to her brother Ian, had been brewing for some time; thanks to this project, she finally felt able to put pen to paper. She is pictured (above) next to her poem with a photograph of Ian.

The next poem on the poetry safari route, and poem number seven out of nine, was Rita Dalgliesh’s ‘Eskrigg Naturally’. Rita, who thoroughly enjoys writing poetry and has an ear for rhythm, produced an unusual piece which would not have felt out of place in a visitor’s guide to the reserve!

The piece, written as if it is providing instructions to a visitor, takes the reader along walkways and around all of the sights. “Browse at your own pace, enjoy the place,” she writes. The twist comes at the end when the poem turns towards the theme of “future”, asking that the reader bears in mind the consequences of their visit and does not leave a footprint on the reserve. This clever piece plays with rhyme and sounds, and is especially pleasing to read out loud.

Rita is a member of Lockerbie Writers.

Eighth on the route (and pictured above in her first attempt at a selfie!) is Kath J. Rennie with her poem, ‘The Relevance of Time’. This detailed poem takes the reader on a walk through the seasons of the nature reserve, including elements of the place’s history such as the curling pond, and a number of the animals and wildlife who live in the area. Incorporating beautiful images of nature alongside the activities and hobbies enjoyed by visitors to the reserve, this poem is a great walk through the changing seasons.

Kath’s poem is also, perhaps, one of the most heavily-edited pieces to feature on the route (I hope she does not mind me saying). During the process, all of the writers were provided with detailed feedback from Eryl. While most of the nine poems changed and shifted substantially along the way, Kath’s in particular stands out in my memory as one which was added to, then edited down, in quite a significant manner. Kath, I hope you are proud of the poem which you arrived at in the end; it is a testament to your hard-working spirit and determination to get it just right.

Kath is a member of Lockerbie Writers.

Last (and, of course, not least – apologies to all the writers out there for the cliché!) was ‘Trees’ by Steph Newham … and, while we are discussing poems which were worked and worked on, I hope that Steph (pictured above) won’t mind me saying that hers also fitted into this category. “I’m still not happy with it,” she told me shortly after she’d sent in the final version – but then, as writers, are we ever happy with our own pieces?

Written by someone who self-admittedly “doesn’t do poetry”, this is a thoughtful and sensory journey through the woods, with a clear and intriguing question at its root (sorry!). ‘Trees’ was the ninth and final poem on the safari route, and perfectly situated as you can see in the top of the two photos above. The poem explores the communication which takes place between tree roots, and asks what they might be saying to each other. “Their roots hold hands beneath our feet,” she writes. “Hear the whisper of the trees.”

Steph is Lockerbie Writers’ Chair Person, and a founding member of A Novel Approach. More about her writing, as well as life as a dyslexic writer, can be found at: https://newhamsuntangledwords.wordpress.com.

And that was that!

A Successful Week: Positivity and feedback

By the end of Book Week Scotland 2020, we had given away all 150 free copies of the companion booklet which contained all nine poems, along with a number of free bookmarks and stickers.

Although we were unable to count the number of visitors who visited and explored the route over the seven-day period, anecdotal evidence from members as well as from Eskrigg’s Reserve Manager suggested that the poetry safari was very popular. The Facebook event page and Lockerbie Writers’ page received a lot of interest, with a higher than normal number of comments, likes and shares on many of the safari posts, including a number of people saying that they were going to go or had already visited. Most of the members of Lockerbie Writers and A Novel Approach groups (seventeen in total) visited the nature reserve at least once during the week, and almost all of them reported that they had seen several other people/groups enjoying the poetry safari. Some members chatted (at a social distance!) to other walkers about the route – and the feedback all seemed to be positive. Others overhead people discussing the poems (again, always positively), or saw them stopping to enjoy the poetry.

One of the loveliest things which I witnessed during one of my walks around the poetry safari was a couple who were walking a dog; they had stopped a little way ahead of me to read one of the poems. I was taking photographs of each poem as I walked round, and so I decided to slow down on my approach to give them more time to finish reading and move on … but as I drew closer and closer, they were still reading! I ended up walking a little way further down the path before, several minutes later, they moved on and I was able to go back and photograph the poem. It was a magical moment to see total strangers taking such time and pleasure in one of the group’s poems – although their dog, who was seemingly having his walk interrupted on a number of occasions, perhaps wasn’t quite so happy!

The path to the poetry safari was not a straightforward one. To satisfy COVID-safe guidance, we had to take a number of precautions which (in previous years) we would never even have considered. Rather than holding a one-day event or stationing group members at the reserve to hand out booklets, the free items were left in a lidded box at a shelter on the reserve throughout the week for walkers and visitors to help themselves to, after sanitising their hands of course. A one-way system was established for the 3 km route, with direction signs going up along the paths as well as markings on the map. A number of additional posters were also displayed, including advice on social distancing, respecting other walkers, and so on.

Has it been worth it? I’ll let the feedback speak for itself in a moment – but first I want to say a final THANK YOU to everyone who was involved in the project – including (but not limited to!) all of the poets from Lockerbie Writers and A Novel Approach groups, local poet Eryl Gasper-Dick, illustrator Rob Crosbie, all at Eskrigg Nature Reserve especially Reserve Manager Jim Rae, local printers Linn Print, and the Annandale Herald newspaper for featuring us on the front cover! Thank you to the Scottish Book Trust and Muirhall Energy for supporting the project and making it possible.

And thank you to everyone who visited our Book Week Scotland Poetry Safari! We hope you enjoyed it and that you will read, enjoy and share the booklet and our poems.

If you have any feedback or photographs which you’d like to share with the group, please get in touch!

Feedback on the poetry safari:

“Absolutely beautiful – what a memorable experience to get to enjoy so many incredible poems in such a picturesque setting! Thank you to Kerrie and everyone who worked on it … please do it again!”

“The book safari was fabulous, the poems suited the area, just a great location. The books are well impressive. Well done, everyone.”

“A great experience to immerse myself and enjoy an hour of nature poetry in its proper outdoor context!”

“It was cold but gorgeous. As we were poem hunting we heard a woodpecker, at least one buzzard, and a very shouty jay. Thanks to Lockerbie Writers who organised it […] I highly recommend it.”

“So enjoyed the poetry safari. Such wonderful poems.”

“As most of my writing friends know, I don’t do poetry, but boy was I proud seeing my offering posted on the walk. Thanks to Kerrie McKinnel – Writer, Paula Nicolson, and Eryl Gasper-Dick for making Lockerbie Writers’ Book Week Scotland 2020 project such a resounding success.”

“We did enjoy our visit to Eskrigg … A grand week I’m sure was had by all due especially to your endeavours  and hard work.”

“This has been a lovely project to be involved in.”

“I spoke with a lady [who had] thoroughly enjoyed reading all the poems […] and was looking forward to reading the poems again once home.”

“A friend who walks a lot said [it was] absolutely amazing! […] Well done to [Kerrie] and other contributors for this idea.”

Photographs of individuals are copyright of the photographed individual. Photographs of the nature reserve and poems are copyright Kerrie McKinnel 2020. Words are copyright of Kerrie McKinnel 2020, except quotations and feedback which are copyright of the individual contributors. All rights reserved.