The Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival’s Writing Awards, in partnership with Bipolar Scotland, is one of our most enduring successes. An opportunity for first time, and more established writers, to be published in our collection of shortlisted work, the annual ceremony is often where we discover what our festival is really about, as writers from across Scotland and further afield take inspiration from the festival theme in poignant, powerful, personal and often ingenious and surprising ways.
Work was submitted in three categories – Fiction, Poetry and Creative Non-Fiction – and the ten shortlisted pieces was selected by a panel including writers Jenni Fagan and Graham Morgan, as well as representation from the Mental Health Foundation and Bipolar Scotland. We are also pleased to the winner in each category, as well as the overall winner, Clare Watson, who will receive a mentoring session with Jenni Fagan. Congratulations to:
Fiction: Clare Watson, The Character of Colour (Overall Winner)
Creative Non-Fiction: Shirley Gillan, An Egg and Ten Olives
Poetry: Catherine Wilson, The Wolf With Wet Paws
Jenni Fagan said:
'It was a great pleasure to read the high quality of entries for SMHAF and I hope it continues to encourage more people to pick up a pen and write.'
Of course we can't invite you to hear from our writers in person this year, but in place of our usual ceremony, we are delighted to publish an illustrated digital book featuring all the shortlisted entries (at the bottom of the page), and share a series of recordings featuring the writers reading from their work (scroll down for readings).
This years work, submitted early this year, explores the original 2020 festival theme of Perspectives. The Festival has always represented a wide range of mental health experiences. Our choice of theme this year, ‘perspectives’, reflects that commitment to self-expression and diversity.This festival takes the form that it does – community led,with events mostly programmed from the grassroots up – because we believe that everyone’s perspective is equally deserving of being heard. We all lead very different lives, we all experience the world from different perspectives, but mental health affects everyone and concerns everyone. If we listen to each other a bit more, and judge ordismiss a bit less, we might all be a little healthier.
The shortlist for this year’s Writing Awards is an opportunity to experience a vivid and powerful collection of perspectives. The stories told here include: a homeless woman attempting to rescue a dying bird; refugees who have survived the most traumatic of experiences finding a new life and community in Scotland; an account of life with endometriosis; a blind date that results in a woman discovering she is autistic; a random encounter with a stranger in a café that ends up preventing a suicide; a recollection of childhood abuse; and a man turning to magic in order to cope with his grief.
The Character of Colour, Clare Watson (Overall Winner)
'Mental health or social issues often find their way into my stories as well as, perhaps, a touch of magic here and there. I have experienced anxiety and depression in the past and feel strongly about seeing the person beyond the condition. It was, therefore, interesting for me to focus on the theme of perspectives. I am never quite sure if my writing is any good, so I was utterly surprised and delighted to find I had been shortlisted. Thank you so much to those readers who chose my story.'
The Company of Magic, FJ Stirling
'The Company of Magic was written about loss. More specifically, it was written about the different ways in which we cope (or not) after a loss and the impact this can have on relationships. While loss has always been a human universal it feels surreal right now, in May 2020, to be living in a world where everyone is experiencing some form of loss all at the same time. Loss of loved ones, loss of employment, loss of homes, loss of freedom and safety. As we all figure out how to respond in our own way organisations like SMHAF are working hard to keep sharing arts and events that might make it just a bit easier to find a way through. To be included as part of that endeavour, in some small way, is something I am thankful for.'
Fly, Sissy, Linda Duncan McLaughlin
'In these weird times it's more than ever important that the arts in Scotland addresses mental health in all its aspects, and it's great to see that SMHAF is managing to bring its wonderful, diverse and always interesting work to perhaps an even wider audience. I'm absolutely delighted to be shortlisted for the International Writing Competition, and to be part of the Festival this year.'
Creative Non Fiction
An Egg and Ten Olives, Shirley Gillan (Winner)
'SMHAF is one of my favourite festivals, so I'm delighted to be shortlisted in the writing competition. I'm looking forward to reading, and listening to, everyone's entries.'
Where Do You Get Off, Jennifer Gray
'I’m so chuffed to be shortlisted for the writing competition. Thanks so much to everyone at the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival for making sure the event still happened. I’m so glad I get to share my writing with you. While our perspectives have likely changed a little over the last few months, lockdown has really reminded me of the importance of the creative process for our mental wellbeing. Of course, writing can be a lonely pursuit, but while we may create alone, events like these let us come together and celebrate as a community.'
A Week One Summer, Angie Wright
'I write to make sense of the world - story, satire, memoir, poetry. This personal account has helped me to structure and process a deeply traumatic episode. Knowing that it has resonated with readers is very satisfying. Mental illness can be so isolating, but reading of others’ experience and interpretation opens a door to connection and understanding. I am delighted to have reached the shortlist!'
Broken Cover, Kate Cross
'I'm delighted to be shortlisted for the SMHAF writing competition. Broken Cover is a very personal piece for me and I hope that it resonates with others.'
The Wolf With Wet Paws, Catherine Wilson (Winner)
'I’m absolutely delighted to be shortlisted for the SMHAF Writing Competition. I wrote this poem at a time where I was incredibly isolated, and my mental health was at a real low. Writing was a lifeline. It gave me purpose, got me out of my head and helped me articulate myself. We will always need the arts and what they can do for our mental health. I’m overjoyed not only to be shortlisted but to be a part of a festival that offers connection, hope, catharsis and escapism when we need them most.'
Defused, Rehema Martin
'I’m so chuffed to be shortlisted by such a great organisation. I’m also thankful to be given this opportunity to use my voice to raise awareness about endometriosis, a condition that affects many women both physically and mentally, myself included. I am so grateful to my partner, Fraser; he not only edited this video, he has held my hand throughout everything.'
Shifting POV, Abi Pirani
'I was really pleased to have my poem shortlisted for the SMHAF 2020 Writing Awards. It’s taken me a long time to talk about my mental health and things that have affected me. Now that I can make my voice heard it feels like a privilege to have that recognised and acknowledged.'