Early April, Edinburgh.
Birdsong wakes me in the morning, and it seems the sun has at last woken up from its winter hibernation. Yellow buds on the tree branches and wild garlic along the Water of Leith. The air is wet and fresh. I can smell the earth.
After a while, I move across to the living room window which faces a cobbled street, and I am taken out of my daze. On this side, the sky is grey and menacing, and I am reminded of Scotland’s only predictable thing—the weather is unpredictable.
It starts to snow and I laugh, for spring is here at last.
At last, Creatives is in the wild! The quality of the submissions has blown us away and we’re looking forward to revealing a wide range of publications over the next few months. In this first newsletter, I thought I’d introduce myself and offer a few words about the purpose of this new digital publication, which is dedicated to showcasing the myriad perspectives inspired by Scotland’s wonderful landscapes.
To the careful observer who may have assumed my French heritage, you are correct: I am from Montreal, Canada. I moved to Scotland in October 2020 to pursue my MSc in Creative Writing, to climb and hike, and, perhaps most of all, to immerse myself in the country’s storytelling traditions. While I have always been drawn to the written records of mountain activity in Scotland, it’s the closely woven intersection between the landscape, its people and the arts that I find most interesting. The character of each landscape, it seems, is in part defined by its people; and certainly, the landscape is a part of everyone—at times sacred.
Only six days after my arrival, the pubs and shops shut their doors and a nationwide lockdown was imposed, blocking access to the Highlands. I had planned to walk the West Highland Way and through Glen Affric after completing my 14-day isolation period, but all hopes of getting up North were quickly squashed.
So, a week later, I began a new trek. I started to peruse my flatmate’s bookshelf (also a climber and literature student). Every night I’d pilfer a new title from her shelf, tiptoe across the creaking floorboards to the rocking chair by my bedroom window where, alone beneath lamplight, I would be transported to the heart of the Highlands. Nature poems, tales of mountaineering and hitchhiking, photographs and watercolours—there were no restrictions on navigating these places imaginatively.
Sometimes, I’d peer outside across the cobbled street and replace the row of tenements with the Black Cuillin of Skye, the chimneys with the Aonach Eagach’s knife-like ridge, and the city’s pigeons and gulls with grouse. I remember, too, while running in town one morning, stopping in front of Sir Walter Scott’s monument and wondering how small it stood in comparison to a black and white photograph I’d seen of the Old Man of Hoy in Orkney. Although I couldn’t be in these places, the perceptions brought forth by these artists stayed with me long after my initial encounter with them, for they not only recounted the rich geological and cultural history of Scotland, but they recorded the voices, smells, textures and subtleties of the earth.
Through the interaction between place, person and the natural world, a complete immersion occurs that can often generate insight. In Dead Poet’s Society, John Keating, played by Robin Williams, says:
We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love—these are what we stay alive for.
Despite being locked down for months, the arts provided us with open spaces, clean air, snowclad hills, roaring rivers, sea cliffs, lochs and remote bothy nights; they gave us birdsong and the voices of the trees; they allowed us to contemplate these landscapes as they lay in brief repose. Writing and art, then, are not simply a means of escapism. They provide a roadmap to regeneration and healing—of the land and people—and at the heart of the artistic exchange lies a fundamental gesture of gratitude to the earth, which is crucial in fostering critical empathy.
As I continue to immerse myself in Scotland’s artistic and outdoor spheres, I’ve noticed the past few years seem to have sparked a renewed interest in nature writing and art, while simultaneously exposing a gap in the country’s publishing sphere. We are familiar with traditional mountaineering feats—triumph amidst hardship, perilous summits—but these stories do not represent the full range of communities that enjoy the outdoors. Different personal objectives and circumstances, physical and mental capabilities and modes of travel affect the way we interact with the environment, and the Press wants to capture and collate these myriad experiences and perspectives.
By publishing a diverse body of creative works that interact with Scotland’s landscapes and making these freely available online, we hope to encourage more people to step outside and create. In the words of Kathleen Jamie: ‘When we read and write, when we love our fellow creatures . . . when we just listen and notice, we are not little cogs in the machine, but part of the remedy.’