2022-23: Space & Place

There are often occasions, at open days and recruitment fairs, when I’m asked what makes the MLitt in Creative Writing at Stirling unique. My answer, always, is that it is our surroundings. We invite writers to join us for a year or two, here in the heart of Scotland, and be inspired by a campus which includes a loch, a castle, superb walks and, of course, a magnificent art collection. So, it was especially fitting and serendipitous when we found out that the Art Collection’s exhibition this year was going to be Space & Place; a theme which seemed to neatly sum up everything that the course aspires to be for the writers who come through our doors.

The writers in these pages have risen to the challenge magnificently. There are meditations on the landscape around us, yes, but also on the frozen North and on the vast skyscapes evoked by the paintings of Jon Scheuler. The ‘ticking clock’ pressure of being a writer is approached through the work of David Shrigley and we have an English-Chinese translation that perfectly alludes to the complexity of Kate Downie’s painting. Perhaps most pleasingly, though, we also have explorations of the wider communities around the University – stories and poetry focused on the Hillfoots villages which stretch out from Stirlingshire into Clackmannanshire – as prompted and inspired by the photography of David James Grinly. 

This pamphlet is, in short, a fantastic sampler of the quality of writing being produced by those in the 2022/23 cohort and also provides a unique prism through which the reader can view the Space & Place exhibition. Sitting down with these stories and poems not only provides moments for reflection and contemplation but also an introduction to a group of writers sure to make a name for themselves in the years to come.

Dr Liam Bell
Programme Director, MLitt Creative Writing


It is a delight to be working with the students of the M.Litt in Creative Writing again this year.  We always look forward to this collaborative project and are annually inspired by the creativity and ingenuity of the works submitted. The written responses to the art on display in the Pathfoot Building invite us to look at these works again in a new light and to become reinspired by pieces that are so familiar.

Each academic year, all of the Art Collection’s exhibitions, events and workshops are directly inspired by one of the University research themes.  In 2022-23 our chosen focus is Space & Place, and during this time we are celebrating the inspiration and sustenance that buildings and outdoor spaces provide for us, especially here on campus.  Our exhibitions include works by Norman Ackroyd, David Grinly, Toby Paterson and the 2022 Artist in Residence Jennifer Wicks.  In our main display space, the Crush Hall, we are featuring artworks from the permanent collection, by artists such as Will MacLean, Mary Martin and Kate Downie, alongside a beautiful and much-admired Arctic painting by the late James Morrison, generously on loan to us from the Fleming-Wyfold Collection.  Other works on display include three new acquisitions from David Shrigley.

This year it has been a joy to see students once again filling the campus, with the restrictions imposed by Covid becoming (we hope) a distant memory.  We have been inspired to read the pieces contributed here and hope that it will encourage you to look with renewed appreciation at the spaces and places which you occupy.

Sarah Bromage
Head of University Collections

On this plain

Kat Wilson 

I am constantly crushed
by the weight of emptiness.
My lungs
drown on air,  
too potent, too vast to hold.

There is an infinite void 
pouring out
before me
yet there is no place

For these feelings.
I am too large,
too small 
(an iceberg adrift a boundless sea)
all at once. But not enough…

So freezing it 
imitates Fire, 
a gratifying rekindling.

the seams fray.
A scream rips
Me apart, 
swallowed unapologetically by a
claustrophobic void.

I fill this desolate place with myself
And for once, maybe it will be enough…

Inspired by ‘Ice and Sky, Grise Fjord’ by James Morrison 


Megan Quijada

Spell eternity for me, I’d said to you, in the days of my youth. With frostbitten ears and blood red lips, my beauty was everlasting and crisp. I gave all my warmth to you, and in return, I expected you to include me in your heart. All I wanted was to be cradled there, safe and secure for the first time since I was a child. 

          Spell eternity for me. You only had to do that. Instead, you spelt betrayal, and sent ice shards from your heart to mine. Everything was cold to the touch, anywhere I looked I could see where you once stood. It was like ice had grown its painful, precious flowers all throughout my home, and I was alone. My breath danced in front of me, leaving me too as it rose. 

          Spell eternity for me. My skin turned numb to the touch of any other, my fingertips blue and white. I spent hours staring out into the snow, hoping to see you return, as snowflakes joined me in my solitude. Eventually a blanket formed among the pattern of flowers, and I was buried in the frost and my pain. The vast nothingness lulled me to slumber. The shaking and burning had long since passed.

          Spell eternity for me. My eyes closed, your face stabbed into my mind. Perhaps come spring I’ll burst from the ground like a snowdrop. As it became harder and harder to breathe, the shards of ice in my heart grew and weighed me down. Alone in the icy, barren snow, I experienced eternity without you by my side, hoping your hand would break through the shards and warm me. It never did.

Inspired by ‘Ice and Sky, Grise Fjord’ by James Morrison 

Questions Loom

Marzia Eneide

i am fabric 
woven from names
and places
existing in the spaces 
between identities
i am rough 
and textured like linen
i am frayed
my threads twisting
tug on a strand
question who i am

i unravel

Inspired by ‘Altar Per La Salvatrice’ by David James Grinly


Felicia Sabartinelli

Where skyline meets sea 
a cauldron of lights dance 
in the ether of the horizon line and I  
feel its gravitational pull 
beckoning for me to follow.  
I don’t know what lies ahead. 
Equally scared as allured. Just a  
boat with no compass  
moving from land to sea 
searching for a lighthouse to warm next to.  
Looking for that quiet surrender…  
A place to call home,  
              a place to call home. 

Inspired by ‘Night Sky: Bunty’ and ‘Night Sky: Magda’ by Jon Schueler

One Woman Show

Felicia Sabartinelli

I am a stained-glass wonder. 
Shades of blue and green, 
enveloped concrete 
intrinsically layered  
with the luminescence 
of the moon and sun. 
Pick me apart, open me. 
Kaleidoscope of passion 
waiting to be uncovered, 
waiting to be seen.    
Will you buy a ticket? 

Inspired by ‘A Seed in Time’ by Sadie McLellan

A Study in Absence

Sam Nimmo

In my head, the kitchen is warm. There’s an ever-present stock of orange Capri-Suns in the pantry. You’re still standing over the stove, the smell of fresh bread and the sizzle of fish filling the air. 
         I sit at that table your son built. The laundry line still hangs above it, and if I stretch, I can grab the hem of a green blouse. I’m on the chair you always told me not to swing on. I swing back on it anyway. I feel my stomach turn, catch myself seconds before I tip back. The feeling of falling is familiar. I hold onto the discomfort. 
         In my head, there’s still four bedrooms and a study. The study is still full of the smell of acrylic and oil paints. A still-wet painting of a parrot sits on the easel. I touch it and my fingers come away red and blue. 
          I climb up the stairs, the ones me and my brother spent years jumping off of – daring each other to go higher and higher, seeing just how high we could go before we fell, crumpled and laughing at the bottom step. 
         Kids are resilient like that. Nothing hurts for long when you’re seven. 
         In my head, you tell us to be careful. In my head, you count backwards from three. In my head, I jump and you’re still there, arms open, lips on my cheek, saying well done!
          In my head, you’re more than an empty space. You’re alive and cooking and slipping pocket money into my jeans when I’m not looking. Alive and smiling and crying and loving.

Alive and alive and alive – 

Inspired by ‘Alva’ by David James Grinly


Sheila Munro

We stare through the window at heavy white-grey clouds. From our rented seaside cottage,
we can’t see where the sea stops and the sky starts. The kids stick like limpets to electronic
screens, their eyes shrinking into blue light. But we are restless, guilty. An afternoon
reprieve invites us outside. We take a ball to the beach and play throw and catch through air
still leaden, damp. ‘Come and see this!’ We follow Daddy to the shoreline and look. A
tumultuous sea, the colour of battleships. Above it a parcel of birds, but not the usual
screech of indecorous gulls. A company of gannets enact a breathtaking aerial assault. We
pause. They swoop, loop and glide, sketching curves across the flat sky, flying high then low,
as though riding an invisible rollercoaster. The kids, in wellies, step forward into shushing
waves, mesmerised by the agility of the birds. Their eyes widen. One by one the gannets
take their turns, Top Gun style. I imagine them as Maverick, Iceman, Rooster and the rest.
They lock sharp eyes on fishy targets. They retract their black webbed landing gear and tuck
in their rigid foil of wings. They plunge vertically into the waves. On impact, each white body
throws up a solid splash, like that of a fist-sized beach pebble tossed by hand. They see what
we cannot see. Shoaling beneath the surface: herring, mackerel, sprats. Yellow heads pop
back up, prizes held between serrated beaks. Back in the air, they’re showing off, not to us
but to each other. Performing flybys. They skim close to the water, leaning into their speed,
closer and closer until their angled black wingtips kiss the waves. The wind whips noisily
across the swell, filling our ears, muffling our unspoken awe.

Inspired by ‘Night Sky: Magda’ by Jon Schueler


Sheila Munro

Born to make marks and
Have marks made on you, so goes
Life’s conversation

Inspired by ‘Figure (Archaean)’ by Barbara Hepworth

Loch Morar (a triptych)

Nicki Wilkins

How long ago did
this boulder collect lichen,
carving muscle smooth?


How long she has been 
waiting to tell her secrets,
whispering water.


Start in the middle
with silver sands, pebble, hill 
and their bodies, land. 

In Conversation with ‘Number 30’ by Norman Ackroyd


Ashleigh Symms


The houses across the road burn in the golden hour. Bay windows glint in the last light of day. A magpie’s dream. I watch from my bedroom, parting the once-white, vertical blinds for a better view. Shadows grow up the brickwork, stretching to claim what remains of the blue sky. I’m waiting for night to finish falling. I’m waiting for you.
                            The faint clang of an empty wine glass being flung in the sink tells me Mum is off to bed. It won’t be long now.

I creep down the stairs, careful to miss the creaking step, third from the bottom. Slipping on mud-encrusted Vans, I make my way to the living room. The front door is too loud. Clambering onto the sill, I slink out of the window by the couch.
                            We trawl the streets. Arm’s length apart. BMX between us. Eyes straight ahead. Neither of us bold enough to even risk a sidewards glance. The crisp air bites at the back of my throat. Our cheeks flush red. Noses begin to run. My ears sting. I pretend they don’t. 
                             I trip on an uneven flagstone. I hope you don’t see.


We head for the basketball court in the middle of the field at the end of the estate. The Council built it last year to give the kids somewhere to play. Graffiti covers the backboards on either side of the gravelled surface. You take a black Sharpie from your pocket, haul yourself atop the painted, metal fence, and scrawl M&J 4eva 2K11 amongst other declarations of love.
                  As you jump down, I notice you’re wearing two hoodies. One is for me. But you wait until I’m shivering to shrug it off and drape it over my shoulders. This is the first-move. It is all you need. You snake an arm around my waist and pull me close. I wonder how long this will last. You always know what I’m thinking. 
                Until sunrise, you say. 

Inspired by ‘Cochrane Crescent’ by David James Grinly


Francesca Parsons

“See they fancy hooses? They used tae be trees when ah wis a boy.”

         I stared out of the car window, following the crooked line of Granda’s finger. There, perched in the crooks of the valley, was a small cluster of double-doored, half-glass houses. Uniformed and unnatural, they sprouted out of the fuzzy green landscape like silk flowers in a garden. 

       “Mrs McCann told us that butterflies used to be caterpillars,” I said, proud of myself for remembering. “Do the trees do that too? Turn into something new when they get too big?”

        Granda laughed a little. I liked his laughter. He pronounced the haitches in his hah’s, a breath for each beginning and end.

         “It’s no like that, son,” he said. 
         “What’s it like then?”
It was impossible to shake off the houses. The banks of the river were filled with new builds, and they had begun to creep further up the hillside. They were like the weeds Granny spent her weekends pulling out of the flower beds, an invasive species growing thick and fast, choking the trees at their roots before taking over. 

        “Did yer mammy ever tell ye that ah used tae work on motors? Well, years back, this man brought in a Bentley. It wis his daddy’s. He wanted me tae take it apart and make it look brand new. I says tae him there wis nothing wrang wae it, that ah didnae want tae touch it, but he wouldnae take no fir an answer.”

         “What did you do, Granda?”
         “Ah fixed the car. Tore it apart and built it back thegether wae new parts.”
         “But… why?” I asked, frowning.

Granda laughed again, but it didn’t sound the same as the others. Just like the sharp-faced houses surrounding us, there was no life left in it.
         “He paid me, son. He paid me.”

Inspired by ‘Nanbei’ by Kate Downie

until we meet again

Christina Schrage

on the horizon, images of you form before my eyes—
so far, yet I feel the warmth of you surrounding me.
the sun leads me toward you each day, the moon by night;
each cycle brings my feet to you. 
it won’t be too long until I cross back—
back to you, and all that I’ve left behind,
traversing the seas and lands unknown. but now,
my arms reach to the sky—the heavens—
wishing for you to fall safely from the clouds,
permitting us to start anew, just me and you. 

Inspired by ‘Night Sky: Bunty’ and ‘Night Sky: Magda’ by Jon Schueler

A Challenge

Joe Hoeffner

Can you make a career out of writing?
Can you become a beloved institution?
Can you earn congratulations through clenched teeth?
Can you look dignified in your dust jacket portrait
holding a bored orange cat?
Can you use words like “magisterial”?
How about “perfidious”?
Can you prove, to yourself and everyone you know,
that you are not an expert in a dying field,
that you are not banging your head against a brick wall
in hopes that it gives before your skull?
(And can you be satisfied with that?)

Inspired by ‘How Long Can You Hold Your Breath Without Dying’ by David Shrigley


Kamie Wootan

It is just now daylight and the birds are chirping
I can see them flit from branch to branch
Mocking me.

Perhaps, they think so much of themselves
As to assume that they are the first to trudge this path
That the way in which they do so matters

In the end, it is the same grave

The birds keep driving out the voice
Of words that I have yet to understand
I have little left to do but listen
My body - subdued by age and use.

This descension into decrepitude
Is mine yet not unique
Keep telling stories
The relevance is in their utterance
I will tell you

No, I’ll tell you nothing.

The voice is strong and clearly ringing
Like the bell of a second-hand bicycle
It speaks to me - warbling
Like the path worn through the grass.

I’m a leaf detached
Food for the worms
In the end, it is the same grave
I smile as if I’m already dead.

Take flight
Twitter out erudition 
Soar into the day

It is evening and there are no birds.

Inspired by ‘Nanbei’ by Kate Downie

Chinese Translation

Helen Wootan