Gordon Forum for the Arts

Newsletter

Spring 2012

Franny Schlicke

Pushkin Prize winner

A young writer from Inverurie Academy writes of her experience of winning a Pushkin Prize, and we publish one of her stories.

www.pushkinprizes.net

Pushkin Prize winners

I was sitting on a bus sucking a toffee and writing a poem, wondering what the 19th century Russian poet Alexander Pushkin would have made of it all! For, 150 years after his death, descendants and other fans of his got together to form the Pushkin Prizes, a writing competition for young people across Scotland and St Petersburg. It was thanks to him I was on my way to Moniack Mhor, to make friends, create pieces of writing, and above all, have a brilliant time!

To enter, you had to submit a folio of work — made up of anything from journalism to poetry to drama. I sent in three short stories. After three months of silence, I heard my folio had been selected as one of the ten Scottish winners. I was amazed! My prize was a week-long creative writing course at Moniack Mhor north of Inverness.

The excitement started with a brilliant prize-giving ceremony at Edinburgh's Archers Hall, which is a grand, historic building, so a spectacular setting. Afterwards the ten of us, along with the two Russian winners, had a quick lunch, got on the bus and headed off!

Moniack Mhor is a converted steading surrounded by hills. We all had our own rooms, and each day we attended workshops by our tutors for the week, Diana Hendry and Gerry Cambridge, getting individual tutorials with them both as well; we got a trip to Urquhart Castle; and also a talk from author Barry Hutchison. On our final evening, we had a ceilidh, with songs, poems and dramas accompanied by trombone, guitar and mouth organ! We've all promised to keep in touch — I'm hoping to go to St Petersburg to see my new friends there one day — and I'll always be grateful to Alexander Pushkin!

Franny Schlicke

Sandwood Bay

short story by Franny Schlicke

The first time I went to Sandwood Bay I was six. Sandwood Bay is the remotest beach on mainland Britain. To get to it, one must drive through North-West Sutherland and keep going along twisty single-track roads, before reaching the car park. There are two toilet cubicles there, the last two that you shall see for another 24 hours.

Then you pull on your climbing boots that you bought specially for this walk and tie them in a double knot; and heave on your huge rucksack that contains an insanely expensive but well-worth-every-penny lightweight tent; your not-so-lightweight sleeping bag; a wee camp stove that you will have hours of fun with later trying to assemble and light, with sand blowing into your eyes and wind blowing out the matches; your toothbrush; and a few other essentials.

Once you have hoisted your rucksack on, you set off to the gate, and walk through it. And now, you have officially started the five-mile trek in to the beautiful beach that must itself be at least two miles long. The walk in is spectacular; you start off on a rough track with sheep bleating all around you. The track gets stonier as you progress, then just peters out into a muddy path. Quite early on, you come to a relatively shallow but fast flowing stream, and you send your beloved father/mother/aunty/grandfather or whoever you are doing the walk with out in front of you so that you can learn by their misfortune which of the stepping stones are slippy or wobbly.

Once they have dried themselves out and you have replaced your shoes and stockings you continue on your way. Later you can look forward to sinking up to your ears in bog, your never-before-worn climbing boots completely filthy, and no longer quite as waterproof as the smiley salesman said they would be. But it's a rare day of Highland sunshine and you're the hardy type, so nothing will put you off, not even the frog that has just overtaken you or the hairy oobit (a very furry caterpillar) that is ascending up your anorak sleeve.

So along you squelch on your merry way. Finally, several Kendal Mint Cake stops later you come across a ruined house. It is reputedly haunted, by the fisherman who used to live in it. You beg your mum to go down and see it and she promises that you shall go tomorrow. More sheep have appeared from nowhere and they are dotted around the green and steep hillsides. Then at last you reach the beach!

Your eyes feast upon the golden sand dunes, dipping up and down, down and up, then flattening themselves out when they reach the sea. They delight in the little clear-water lagoon that is nice and handy for your usual campsite. They see the rocks that later today you shall scramble over, and that tomorrow you shall shelter in over your breakfast of sausage baps (always providing the tide is out).

And then you're off! You dash down the sandy slopes, kicking off your now dry boots and peeling off your socks and rolling up your trouser legs all at the same time (then instantly wishing you hadn't as the spiky grasses scratch at your legs). You toss your rucksack from your shoulders and pull out the water bottle, then slip and slide down the dunes, falling over halfway down and rolling the rest of the way to the beautiful lagoon (that once, after a dry sunny summer, completely dried up), where you race in — and race back out again, shocked at the coldness of the water. Then in you plunge once more, and you stand, up to your knees in shimmering water, filling your bottle. You cup your hands and fill them with ice-cold water and take a long, cool drink, then run back up to the campfire where your loyal family are already pitching the tents.

You're off again now, hurtling towards the sea. The waves crash against the smooth shore, throwing up pretty seashells. You ignore your mother's earlier warning to "be careful" and rush into the perishingly cold water, oblivious to the waves that are splashing over your trousers that are meant to last you the whole time. Out you scramble, barefoot on the sun-baked rocks. You lightly bound over them, clambering up a rocky face here, slithering down a smooth surface there, until you are right over at the other side of the outcrop. Next stop, America! The surf is spraying in your face, you close your eyes and imagine that you are out at sea, an innocent sailor about to crash on these fatal rocks, a beautiful mermaid combing out her hair. (In fact, Sandwood Bay is the last place that a mermaid was ever sighted, so it is definitely possible that there are some out there, combing their hair, maybe watching you...).

You turn your head and open your eyes again to see the cliffs, the lighthouse that later you shall watch flash out its warning to sailors, the river that joins the sea... Oh, it's all so magical, so deserted, and so isolated from the rest of the world! You run back towards the beach again. You jump off the rocks and scurry across the sandy shore aiming for the cliffs. You feel so excited somehow, though you don't know why. There are just certain things in life that make certain moments really special. Like cooking your tea over an open fire, then eating it off tin plates... and you don't know why it's so special, it just is.

You have reached the river now, and it's a raging torrent. Suddenly Mum is standing behind you, telling you it's too dangerous to cross just now. You can't be angry with her though... Sandwood Bay is a place that it is impossible not to be happy at.

So you agree with her and wander back to the tents, now pitched, remembering the time you did manage to cross the river and how when you reached the cliffs, you found some secret caves, and the way that you pretended to be a smuggler in them! That was really fun, that day. When evening came, you'd all climbed to the top of the highest sand dune and watched the sun go down on the sea, pink and gold, red and yellow. Then, what about that first visit, when you had a campfire, ran short of driftwood, and you toasted marshmallows over the glowing embers of your Beano, that mum fed into the fire as quickly as you read it! Then, two years ago, playing hangman on the beach, when you tried to guess the name of the rock stack that stands alone out at sea and couldn't spell it: Am Buichaille! It means "The Shepherd" in Gaelic. You look across now to see it.

Later that night you snuggle down in your sleeping bag, and fall asleep almost straight away. Sandwood Bay is wonderful, but it really takes it out of a person!

Franny Schlicke

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