2021-22: Health and Wellbeing

This collaboration between the MLitt in Creative Writing and the Art Collection felt
especially apt this year, since the theme of ‘Wellbeing’ chimed so closely with the students’
experience of taking classes with face masks, social distancing, and occasional pivots to online
learning because of self-isolation rules.

In that vein, you might expect the pieces which follow to be meditations on the pandemic, but
it is testament to the positivity, imagination, and sense of community present in this cohort that
the writing in this collection is actually much more. Yes, there are nods to our current moment,
however there are also explorations of the history of our surroundings here on campus, mental
health and its impacts, and ruminations on the creative process itself. The artwork is responded
to directly, at points, but also serves as metaphor.

The joy of this collaboration, always, is that it allows for a dialogue between the exhibitions
on display and the writing produced by the students. There is conversation, with each piece
developing and deepening engagement with that idea of wellbeing and emerging from the year
(and the pandemic) with a stronger, resonant creative voice. And so, it is my pleasure to introduce
you to these writers, who have embraced the challenge of responding to the artwork in the
Pathfoot Building with the same sense of ingenuity, creativity and experimentation that they’ve
shown throughout their time here at Stirling. Enjoy.

Dr Liam Bell
Programme Director, MLitt Creative Writing

We are grateful to the students of the M.Litt in Creative Writing for finding inspiration in our
exhibits and for writing wonderful pieces. We are always delighted and inspired by such creativity
which makes us consider and look differently at the artworks on display, which are passed by staff,
students and visitors on a daily basis.

Each year, the Art Collection’s exhibitions, events and workshops are directly inspired by the
research of the University. In 2021/22 the focus is on health and wellbeing, under the umbrella
title The Art of Wellbeing. Our exhibition themes are planned several years in advance, and when
we first conceived of the current theme, we could little have imagined the extra resonance that it
would take on. Managing our health and wellbeing has more importance than ever in this world
where we are all impacted by events out of our own control. Finding ways to navigate this time
of uncertainty is something that has preoccupied us greatly in the last two years. This academic
year was conducted in the shadow of covid and required us all to cope with sudden change in a
world that included social distancing, online learning and periods of restrictions.

Despite the many new challenges which coronavirus has presented this year, we have been so
pleased that visitors have gradually returned to our gallery spaces and had the opportunity to
respond in person to the work on display. Our exhibitions include works by artists including
Ciara Philips and Lindy Richardson alongside our exhibition Second Chancers exploring personal
experiences of Community Justice in Scotland. In our exhibition Blue we have curated a selection
from the permanent collection, all of which features this especially significant primary colour. For
some, it might denote sadness or cold, and yet for others the calming nature of blue can be a
healing presence, restorative, and harmonious.

We have been inspired by the writings contributed here and hope that those who encounter
these words will reflect on their own experiences in this ever-changing world.

Sarah Bromage
Head of the Art Collection

Our Hands are Weapons

Morgan Carmichael

I can no longer make love to you or myself because our hands are
weapons now. We wash them up in unending ways, remembering
something about Britney, just for them to lose their youth and flip us
off. And we sanitise to protect our lung function and socialisation,
but our hands grow scales and smell instead, this threat turning our skin
into old news. And the woman down the street says she can hear her
hands moan when she tries to sleep, so she wakes and tells them to
claw themselves off her wrists. But our hands are imprisoned in this,
so they can be used to kill someone’s grandmother just so we can hold
someone we love. And these hands once used to slap someone we
adore, or caress someone we hate, now collects our face fluids and the
words we spit out when we’re bothered, for inspiration for the saps
and the poets.

Inspired by ‘Eros and Psyche’ by Ciara Philips

Rebirthed Wings

Marianne Berghuis

stray black dog decay
stitched in the fabric of time
rebirthed wings awake

Inspired by ‘Encumbered’
by Lindy Richardson

Don’t Look Through Me

Marianne Berghuis

What do you see?
Staring through
Cast off steel frame,
You don’t see me.
Bleak shades mixing
Murky swirls.
Dancing paint streaks.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
Infused colours,
Cobalt blues
Meet azure seas.
Look deep. Just be.

Inspired by ‘Static Night’ by Kevin Harman

Twenty-Seven Times Two

Marianne Berghuis

The phalanges point, and flex, and extend. The carpals rotate, and twist, and bend. Working
together are bones, very small. If you count twenty-seven, times two, you’ve got them all.
Under the wrinkled skin, inked and weathered, by ligaments, muscles, tendons and sheaths they
are tethered. The hands create. The hands connect. The hands will pick up what we select.

But more than that our hands are love. In prayer position they point up above. A lover’s touch,
a warm embrace, our hands raise up to shield our face. To cradle a baby in hands we hold.
From clay our hands a sculpture moulds. In a tightened fist they can be poised to fight, but they
also paint, they draw, they sketch, they write. Rubbed with sanitiser, washed with soap.
Hands placed on our hearts in distress or with hope.

Rings rotated and ragged fingernails, bitten down to the quick. Fingers and thumbs scroll screens
with a slide or a click. Blood flows through arteries and veins to keep distal digits warm,
as two-handed dexterity produces emotive art-forms. Without conscious thinking hands do
such a great deal and through writing and art our hands can soothe so others may heal.

Inspired by ‘Eros and Psyche’ and ‘Make It Last’ by Ciara Philips

St Dymphna

Jennifer Syme

Black dogs snap at my heels. Unwanted, they bring
Gloomy days, and pitch-dark nights.
They push me to the edge of my reason, want me to
Stumble and stay within their jaws reach.
I must resist their teeth and power; I must not fall.

Look up St Dymphna says, see the Light dissolving the blackness.
Look right, St Dymphna says, see the Angel on your shoulder to guard you.
Look left, St Dymphna says, see the Butterflies guiding you.
They will keep you safe and in the light.
I must follow them, let their fluttering wings lift me up.

The black dogs sleep now, under St Dymphna’s spell.
Defeated by the Butterflies, Angel, and Light.
They hold my gaze up, and away from the dark beasts below.
No longer need I fear their glinting teeth and snapping jaws.
I did not stumble; the black dogs cannot reach me now.

Inspired by ‘Encumbered’ by Lindy Richardson

Changing Perspectives

Liza Miles

On the land of a forgotten village
Stands a gallery of difference.
The black frames dance,
Evolving through time.
Self-reflection, encouraging wellbeing.
Her swaying nonlinear exposition
Responds to uncertainty
in a changing environment.
Ageing in process.
Fallibility starts her journey
And precipitates a trade,
with planned preservation.
The present what is,
like the forgotten village,
Evolves. Emerges differently.

Inspired by ‘Hanging Mobile’ by Ally Wallace

The Bridge

Ruth Irons

I test my weight on the bottom step. The cast iron is rusted and flaking, the concrete cracked and
scarred, disfigured by decades of graffiti and neglect. But it seems solid enough to me, so I climb
the metal stairs, grasping the handrail just in case, and pause on the narrow walkway. At the far
end an identical set of steps descends into a tangle of nettle and bindweed. Beneath me,
where once the railway station stood, is nothing but scrubland. This redundant structure,
its purpose forgotten, squats idly among the couch grass, leading from nowhere to nowhere.

Half a century ago workers, shoppers and schoolchildren bustled and jostled across the bridge.
But Beeching's axe severed the artery which carried the lifeblood to their village. Steel rails were
melted down, wooden sleepers tossed aside to be invaded and ingested by insects:
new communities, reducing our human constructs flake by flake to a dusty oblivion.

Industries rise and fall, and the people and places who depend on them tumble from the
crumbling infrastructure. Communities, like individuals, can sadden, sicken and die.
But sometimes they rise again. We see railway stations, mills and shipyards remodelled into
museums. Fishing trawlers and pitheads restored as industrial memorials. So our children and
grandchildren can learn about 'the olden days' and we, whose days they were, can remember.

These simple acts of restoration have power to reshape the future as well as the past, to bridge
the generations. Side by side, enthusiasts and offenders paint, hammer and weld new life into our
decaying heritage. In return, they and their communities are renewed and repurposed. Moulded
together into a living, lasting monument to human resilience and hope. Fragile and flawed, no
doubt. But as a legacy, it seems solid enough to me.

Inspired by ‘Locomotive Descending a Staircase’
by George Wyllie and the Second Chancers exhibition


Chloe Craig

Today my thoughts are heavy.

Thoughts of isolation, loneliness and sadness are encompassing me. If I try to picture them,
I imagine darkness. Black, specifically. Some would say that I’m suffering from a case of ‘the black
dog’. “It doesn’t have to be this way,” I tell myself. Everyone has bad days, but today my thoughts
shall not win.

When the pandemic first started, I would start my day by going for a walk. In a time when our
freedom was taken away from us, spending more time outside meant that my mind had never felt
freer. Although we’re all experiencing more normality these days, I still take the time to go for
a walk if I ever need to clear my head. Today I decide to walk to my local woods; there’s a
particular stream that I like to just sit by. There’s a slight breeze in the air, which sends each little
wave on its own singular journey.

The sun is shining through the trees that tower over the stream and as I look deeply into it,
I start to see the different shades of blue. I’d never thought about it before, but people do say
that blue has certain calming effects. I begin to feel almost serene as I watch the continuous
motion of each passing wave, and with each, I feel lighter. Slowly but surely the darkness fades.
I’m surrounded by blue. In this very moment, I’m free. That’s all I know… I sit here, thinking of
nothing in particular and I notice a butterfly floating up towards the sky. It dances with ease,
disappearing into the distance, which can also be said for my thoughts of isolation, loneliness and
sadness. I am no longer a victim to ‘the black dog’.

Today my thoughts are free.

Inspired by ‘Encumbered’ by Lindy Richardson

Look for beauty

Sheila Munro

Look for beauty and we shall find it
In the commonplace, in the thrown away
Colour to enliven our senses
Texture to awaken new thoughts

Let’s keep our eyes open and look with mindful regard.
Disaster need not be the harvest of our labours
Arm in arm, we can root out what is ruinous
Together we heal, we grow

Look to nature, to her creative agency
To solutions forged by myriad designs
We stand, not apart from, but within her
With her vigour, we can recast our world anew

Inspired by ‘Static Night’ by Kevin Harman

The Gentle Destruction of the Sea

Dorcy Jaffray

In half an hour, there will be no evidence of this. The ocean will consume my presence, bit by bit.
Wave by wave.

Too far away to judge in feet, I measure them in seconds, counting the time it takes for the waves
to stretch to their peak. Weeks of this routine have told me it will be over when they reach six.
I examine the shore before I begin. Water licks the sand in a steady rhythm. I take a deep breath
and watch. Count.

Three seconds.
I have time.
I don’t have an image in mind. It doesn’t matter what I draw. I press the tip of my stick into the
beach in front of me. The movements require my whole body. I spin slowly, letting the sand seep
in between my toes as I turn. Slightly damp, it parts cleanly. A breeze grazes across my face and I
am engrossed in the smell of the sea.
I finish a series of triangles and check the water again.

Four seconds.
I make no noise while I work. The seagulls and seafoam converse enough. I am surrounded by
activity but join only with impressions in the sand.
I draw a collection of circles, each encompassing the last. My reach is barely long enough to finish
the largest one. I stand on tiptoes and lean forward as much as I dare. One fall and everything
would be destroyed ahead of schedule.
I finish the farthest curve and rest back on my feet.

Five seconds.
The ocean is inches away, now. I have been here before. The knot of emotions is addicting.
Sorrow, anxiety, relief, pride. This is the ebb and flow of creation. The only thing that will never
change. The limitless transformation of the sand.



Ashleigh Symms


Wellness and Being

Liza Miles

Wandering among
expressive corridors which
light up thoughts and learning.
Natural light falls,
enhancing the figures
standing still and
silent outwith.


Becoming aged they
echo stories of humanity,
in the past to present.
Nurturing, challenging,