Mavis's Shoe

Author of two novels and a creative memoir.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015


(poster designed by Lynne Collinson)

I’m in Shapinsay, an Inner Isle of Orkney. I’ve spent the day gasping, as you can imagine. Up at the crack of dawn in Helmsdale, my accomplice Graham Hogg and I drove my little campervan from Helmsdale to Scrabster. The journey was white with frost, the colours of the land and seascape pale with early morning light. The vast expanse of the North Sea glittered into the distance below full-drop cliffs, gave way to the time-rounded immense space of the moorlands of Caithness. Here I indulged my habit of searching for signs of previous lives. Old roads, deserted farms and houses standing firm and often roofless against the wind, and green patches of previously tilled fields. Otherwise all was brown winter heather tipped with frost, and white caps of mountains just visible over the curve of the bog.
Two ferries later here we are outside the Shapinsay Kirk where I’m about to give a creative writing workshop. We had no idea who or how many people would come, plus it was 0° at the front door, so a workshop in the van seemed unwise. Before you laugh at the very idea, it has two benches the length of beds which makes it ideal for small intimate workshops or meetings. However, a warm church awaited us.

Having prepared a workshop for many eventualities, I had in fact forgotten the request I’d made a month previously for aspiring writers to bring an object which signified the future on Shapinsay in some way. Someone brought a Rossi’s Dolphin skull, another person brought a bag of limes, oranges and grapes with a tag ‘Grown in SHAPINSAY’. We did daft writing exercises designed to loosen up the imagination and open up possibilities. Much hilarity was had and some amazing futuristic visions of the island made it on to the page.
Later, in the evening, we returned to the kirk for its second (my workshop being the first) non-religious event, a presentation from Lateral North and an open discussions with and between local people about, again, the future of Shapinsay. My earlier workshop had been designed to get everyone thinking ‘outside the box’ as Graham puts it or as I would say, ‘anything is possible.’

Our kind hosts, Nic and Lois, were so enthused by the discussions they were up half the night afterwards discussing what had been said.

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