What is ‘normality’?

Over the last three weeks, we have been exploring this question at the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival, but the writing competition is often where we discover some of the most thoughtful, engaging and surprising responses to our theme.

Among the shortlisted entries this year, there are several pieces that respond to the spaces and silences of the Covid-19 pandemic, the ways that people have adapted positively to this new normality or sought solace in their hopes for the future. There are also stories which explore what normality can become when going through intensely challenging experiences, including bereavement, relationship breakdown and trauma; an ingenious poem that can literally be read in two directions, presenting contrasting perspectives on normality; and an affirming series of journal entries about using dance to find power in recovery and rediscover what once felt normal.

The Writing Awards, presented in partnership with Bipolar Scotland, take place live on Zoom this Sunday evening - book your tickets here.

Designed to close the festival in style, this year’s ceremony is hosted by author Kirstin Innes, whose recent novel Scabby Queen has received widespread acclaim, including from A.L. Kennedy, Ian Rankin and Nicola Sturgeon. There will also be an exclusive performance from Edinburgh-born musician Blue Rose Code, who has spoken candidly about his experiences with mental health both in his music and in a recent documentary.

As always, the focus for the evening will be readings from our 11 shortlisted writers, who will be sharing their pieces publicly for the first time. Their work was selected from more than 300 entries to the competition – a marked increase on previous years – across three categories: Fiction, Poetry and Creative Non-Fiction. The judging panel included Kirstin Innes and representatives from the Mental Health Foundation and Bipolar Scotland.

Kirstin said:

"I was honoured to be asked to judge and present the awards this year. SMHAF is an organisation close to my heart and some of the work submitted makes for really outstanding reading - very excited to be able to share these writers with you."

The winner in each category and the overall winner of the competition will be revealed live on the night. Audiences will also get the first opportunity to read their pieces in full in our eBook, designed and illustrated by Emily Wylde.

We are delighted to announce the shortlisted entries. Congratulations to all these writers and to everybody who entered the competition – the standard was extremely high, and we were thrilled with the enthusiastic response to the competition.


Laura Barbour
Emily Gifford
Jenny Hulton
Steve Wade


Ellena Loughrey
Stephanie Powell
Angie Wright

Creative Non-Fiction

Elaine Lockhart
Hanna Louise
Nichelle Santagata
Heather Still

The SMHAF Writing Awards will take place as a live Zoom event from 7-9pm on Sunday 23 May to close SMHAF 2021. Book your tickets here. Image Credit: Ingrid Mur