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Award-Winning New Writing from Argyll and Bute

  13 Oct '20   |  Posted by: Birlinn

Over lockdown, an all-age creative writing project has been running in the area of Argyll and Bute in the west of Scotland. Our own Denzil Meyrick, author of the hugely successful DCI Daley novels and now the short novel, A Large Measure of Snow, has supported the project from the outset and we were delighted when he asked Birlinn to publish the winners on our website.

Below are the two winning stories; ‘The Wave Seeker’ by Bethan Neil (age 11 years), from Oban and ‘June on the Beach’ by Julie Forrester (adult entry), from Dunoon.

The project was run by the Argyll and Bute Council Community Learning Team in partnership with Found Fiction (https://foundfiction.org/). The idea was to encourage people from the local area to get creative and focus on a positive activity during lockdown to overcome the stresses and upheavals it caused. The winners have been selected but there is a further step – with Found Fiction. Once safe to do so (i.e. no chance of Covid cross-contamination), all the stories that were submitted will be printed off and put into envelopes and distributed in random spots throughout the local authority for people to find and enjoy. This will provide a reflective element – and will inspire the community once again.

Denzil Meyrick commented:

I was really impressed by the support group that sprung up in Kintyre in the wake the Covid lockdown. Yet again, the community spirit that exists across the peninsula has come to the fore. Help was available to everyone, particularly the most vulnerable, via a scheme populated mainly by volunteers.
The short story competition was a great idea, and gleaned some fabulous results. I’m delighted to be able to support it in conjunction with my publisher Birlinn/Polygon. 
Along with my continued financial support of the Campbeltown Seafront Regeneration project, it reconfirms my commitment to the area that I still call home. It remains the inspiration behind the Daley novels and my latest novella A Large Measure of Snow. 

The Wave Seeker by Bethan Neil

The wave seeker rode the wave as it crashed down against the shore. The wind howled and clouds rumbled around her as she continued to play in the ocean. The night sky was covered by clouds – not a star in sight. Her mother called for her to return home. Her mother’s voice was as elegant as the moonlight as it reached Elana’s ears. Elana felt most alive on the waves of thunder – the danger of it, the excitement of it, the power of the waves, pushing her back to the shore, where she wished never to be. 

Elana was never very sociable. She had never felt the need to be. What was the point of friends when she had the ocean? The ocean thrilled her – people and land did not. The land was dry and boring, the landscape of it never seemed to change, people were always busy and did things unnecessary in the water. In the water there was always change. Elana never knew what to expect – that is what thrilled her most. She loved the feeling of not knowing and wondering all the time what would happen next. Every chance she had, she would go for a swim in the sea. In Oban there were many beaches, so Elana never had any trouble finding somewhere to swim.   

One day at school, they were being taught about old Scottish myths and tales, when suddenly the name the wave seeker appeared. Elana shot her hand up immediately.

“Yes Elana?” The teacher said.

“I knew about the wake seeker, but I never knew anyone had written about it,” Elana replied.

“Oh yes Elana, many people have even claimed to see the wave seeker. They say the wave seeker prefers the stormy weather, and tends only to be around at night. Apparently the wave seeker has only ever been spotted in Oban. I myself have always wanted to spot the wave seeker – such an elegant creature. On land, a human – in the water, a kelpie,” the teacher said.

That weekend, Elana went for another swim. Again, it was stormy weather – just how she liked it. Elana walked in until she was deep enough to swim. After swimming deeper, she turned around. She saw another person standing by the shore, looking right at her. The person was too far away to tell clearly who it was, so she swam closer. Once she was close enough, she realised it was her teacher.

What on earth is she doing out here in this weather? Elana thought. Then Elana remembered something. Her teacher had said something about the wave seeker, something like: “they say the wave seeker prefers the stormy weather and tends only to be around at night.” 

It couldn’t be, or could it be, that the wave seeker was Elana? 

Then her teacher said something. “Wave seeker?”

Bethan Neil

June on the Beach by Julie Forrester

A June evening in West Bay. That rare kind of sunset that doesn’t just appear in the west but colours the clouds in every direction. The water is calm, with ripples stroking the shore.

Davie sees the beauty of his surroundings but it doesn’t lift his melancholy. Living by himself during lockdown, he’s felt increasingly lonely. He walks down onto the beach and starts to pick out stones for skimming. The beach is full of them – thin grey ovals that fit comfortably in the hand, just waiting to be flicked and bounced across the waves.

He aims one stone and it skims across the water three times, as a blur of grey streaks from behind him into the water, splashes and then emerges, resolving itself into a small wet dog which triumphantly drops the stone back at Davie’s feet. The dog crouches and wags its tail expectantly. It looks up at him, back to the stone and then stares at him again with so much hope that Davie cannot help but smile and toss the stone again.

The wee dog leaps into the sea after the stone. This time when it swims out, it fails to find anything, but that doesn’t seem to matter – it still comes back to Davie. Panting, with its mouth open, it looks like the dog is laughing, and the impression is even stronger when the dog shakes a surprisingly large quantity of water off its coat and all over Davie.

Now a woman is running towards them both, shouting: “June, June, come here, you naughty dog!” A little out of breath, she stops a few feet away and starts to apologise to Davie. But how can he be annoyed when June is now lying contentedly across one of his feet, as if that’s how things ought to be?  

He and June’s owner introduce themselves. They walk back along the beach together, as June runs in ever-widening rings around them, and barks in a way that might just be self-congratulatory. Ann says she walks her dog along West Bay every evening, and will they see him again tomorrow? Suddenly, Davie’s life feels less lonely.

Julie Forrester

Julie Forrester
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