Talking Heads reporter Ali Blatcher shares her experience of the 2019 SMHAF Writing Awards, held in partnership with Bipolar Scotland on Wednesday 22 May.

This time last year I was flying my way up from Brighton to Glasgow to attend this event and read out my published poem, Split. This year I am at the St George’s Tron Church once again to celebrate other writers’ published pieces.

This event is run by the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival, the Mental Health Foundation and is in association with Bipolar Scotland. The night bursts with creativity and the theme this year is “Connected”. The way it works is there are ten overall winners, extended to twelve this year because of the sheer quality of the entries. There are then three final winning pieces.

The night was hosted by well-known author Ian Rankin, who managed to maintain an enjoyable atmosphere despite some of the writings being very serious in what they were addressing. The venue was stunning and the light shining through the stained glass windows of the church illuminated each writer as they took to the stage.

Each writer read out their winning entry or an extract of it; some were moving whilst some made the audience laugh. Some introduced new words into Ian Rankin’s vocabulary- like “Shoormal”, a Shetland word for the point at which the sea meets the land! All winning entries were well read and well received.

In third prize was Benny Allen’s “Twenty-Five, Vanilla Milkshake”, which was read out by Julie Cameron from the Mental Health Foundation. Second prize went to Eilidh Clark’s “Message in a Bottle”, and Eilidh gave a speech, which brought some of the audience members to tears, about how important it is to have someone to connect to, even if it’s a stranger. Shirley Gillan received first prize with “Outside In” and with this piece of work Shirley wanted to pay homage to the courage of people who are seeking asylum and said she is grateful to SMHAF for acknowledging this.

The Writing Awards is a very humbling evening full of talented people, all of whom are now connected to each other through their published works. Well done to SMHAF for hosting this wonderful night and offering these kinds of opportunities to budding writers! In the words of host and author Ian Rankin, isn’t it amazing what people can do with twenty-six letters of the alphabet?

by Ali Blatcher

Ali Blatcher writes about mental health at She can also be found on Facebook at The Blogging Noggin.

The Talking Heads project, in partnership with See Me, brings together a team of volunteer journalists to produce written articles and other creative responses to festival events. Click here to find out more.