Too Raging to Cheers

by Iain Maloney

Let’s get this straight from the start. The Kirin Cup isn’t a cup. It isn’t even a tournament. It’s a marketing exercise by the Kirin beer company. Two international football teams are invited to Japan for a round-robin with the winner awarded the Kirin Cup. It isn’t a real trophy, it isn’t a real tournament. But in our 148-year history (the first international football game was Scotland v. England in 1872, a 0–0 draw) it is the only tournament we have ever won, the only trophy in our cabinet, and in the last twenty-two years, the only tournament we’ve even been in, so we’re claiming it. It’s ours. Scotland, Kirin Cup winners, 2006.

            I was in Japan then, and watched it on TV, the distance to Saitama being a bit beyond my budget at the time. Scotland, in an echo of that first ever match, ground out a boring scoreless draw but after beating Bulgaria 5–1, it was enough. So when Scotland returned in 2009 for the even-less-like-a-real-tournament Kirin Challenge Cup (literally a one-off friendly with the fallacy of a trophy at the end dangled like a limp carrot in front of an apathetic donkey), I wasn’t going to miss out on the glory.

It’s like the in-laws meeting. Japan versus Scotland. A friendly.
            The Nissan Stadium, Yokohama, site of the 2002 World Cup Final. We travel through to Yokohama and check in, ten minutes from the stadium. Far enough to enjoy the crowds on the approach, close enough to escape. We get dressed up; it’s a special occasion after all. Minori’s in a Scotland top, with a Japanese flag around her shoulders. On the way in, we stop at a face-painting stand and each get a hinomaru – the Japanese rising sun – painted on one cheek, a saltire on the other. I’m sporting Shunsuke Nakamura’s number 10 top from the 2006 World Cup and an enormous saltire tied round my waist, hanging like a Highland sarong, and a Lion Rampant cape, flying in the wind like Marvel’s William Wallace. We look good, an advert for multiculturalism.

On the way out of the hotel we take the lift with some Japanese guys. ‘Scotland?’
            ‘You don’t wear skirt?’
            ‘I forgot to shave my legs.’
            Beers, photos, cheers and chants. We bought our tickets in the country so we’re in amongst the Japanese fans, main stand, far from the tiny pocket of Tartan Army, a little village of indomitable Gaels in the corner. In Japan there’s only a vague attempt at fan segregation because there’s no violence, no atmosphere of threat. Football is a family day out; you bring the wife and kids, your packed lunch and your noise- makers. Saying that, they’re getting cannier with foreign fans. I was at the FIFA Club World Cup at Toyota Stadium in 2011, an infamous game amongst those who were there. The authorities were in no way prepared for the Espérance de Tunis fans, fresh from ousting Ben Ali earlier in the Arab Spring. They were rowdy, they were dancing, they were singing, they were drinking. They would not take their seats and they were in no way intimidated by the teenage ball boys deployed to stop a pitch invasion when dodgy refereeing handed Al Sadd of Qatar a 2–1 win. It was hilarious, by far the most fun I’ve ever had at a sports event. The following year, there were fences and guards and much less fun.

            Back in Yokohama, the teams come out, line up, and it’s anthem time. The Japanese one, sad, interminable, slowly fades into life and people start singing mournfully. I maintain this anthem is to blame for much underperforming by Japanese teams. An anthem should be rous- ing, bordering on martial, certainly in a major key, and ideally with a bit of bombast, something to get the blood flowing, the adrenaline pumping, something, well, anthemic. What it shouldn’t be is a dirge that would make Radiohead go ‘fucking hell, cheer up, mate’. Still, everyone sings along. A round of applause. Then it’s our turn, ‘Flower Of Scotland’. That’s more like it. Rousing, bloody, even has gaps perfectly suited to a gloss of swearing. I feel a bit self-conscious, the only one in the main stand giving it laldy, but you’ve got to represent, and it really is a very rousing anthem.

They start to boo. The people around me. And with each boo I sing a little louder. And a little louder. Then I stand up, flag up. Alone. I can barely hear the fifty outriders of the Tartan Army at the other end, but the indignation, the anger, makes me add my voice to theirs. I try to drown out the booing. I fail.
            I sit down in a purple rage, fists clenched.
            ‘Good job,’ says the man two seats along. ‘Good singing.’
            ‘Fuck you,’ I say. ‘Fuck you. Why did you boo?’
            I show him.
            ‘To show we support Japan.’
            ‘You hate Scotland?’
            ‘To boo means you hate something. You all said, “I hate Scotland. Scotland can fuck off.” Well, you can fuck off, too.’ He says nothing, looks at the pitch.
            Minori breaks her silence. ‘Leave it.’

A drubbing. 2–0. Should have been more. None of the regular first team have travelled, Japan is at full strength. Honda scores both. Smirks around me. I’m not singing any more. Scotland isn’t well known in Japan. Now they know something about us. They know we’re crap at football. My students are going to rip the piss when I get back to work. We leave. The crowds mix, and the kids are fascinated by these massive guys in skirts. Up ahead one is teaching them English.
            ‘Say fuck.’
            ‘No, not FAKU, Fuck. Fuck.’
            ‘FAKU. FAKU.’
            ‘Better. Not great. Now. The.’
            ‘Not za, the. The.’ And he makes this sound like a snake with a lisp. ‘Thrpp,’ the kids say, blowing raspberries.
            ‘Together. Fuck the.’
            His mates are in stitches. A father says to me, in Japanese, ‘What’s he teaching them?’
            ‘A football chant.’
            ‘Is it bad?’
            ‘It’s not good.’
            He looks like he wants to intervene, to say something. I shake my head. ‘Leave it.’
            Is this how they see me? They’re like the goons in the Popeye cartoons. Huge slabs of flesh, knuckles hanging low.

‘Hey, pal, vodka Coke, eh.’ We’ve gone into a bar for some food and drink, see what the craic is.
            ‘Vodka fuckin’ Coke, capisce?’
            ‘Fucksake, this is Bacardi, no fuckin’ vodka. Hey, pal, Ah said vodka. V-O-D-K-A. Understand?’
            I intervene.
            ‘Wokka cora?’
            ‘Wokka nai.’ Cocktail bars have vodka, but not a regular place like this. No one drinks vodka Coke here. I translate. The kind of attitude that would vote for Brexit rises, outraged that what you can get in Barrhead you can’t automatically get in Yokohama.
            ‘Come on, let’s get out of here. We’ll go to an izakaya. There won’t be any fans there.’
            As Minori finishes her drink I go up to pay. There’s fear, exhaustion, something in the guy’s eyes as he watches me approach. What hassle am I going to give him? Relief when I ask for the bill in Japanese, hand over the money without any problems. As he gives me my change, I say,             ‘Gomenne. Konya, ganbarre.’ Sorry about this. Good luck tonight.
            He grabs my hand and starts shaking it. ‘Arigatō. Thank you. Good night.’
            We go home.

An extract from the memoir The Only Gaijin in the Village: A year in rural Japan out now on Birlinn/Polygon.

Iain Maloney is the author of “The Only Gaijin in the Village”, a memoir about moving from Scotland to rural Japan. He has also published three novels and a haiku collection, and is an editor and lectures on writing in Japan. He has degrees in English (Aberdeen) and Creative Writing (Glasgow) and writes regularly for a number of publications including the Japan Times.

Originally published in Issue 19 as ‘Homegame’ which can be read in our Archive.



by Samuel Tongue

The ferry has brought me this far,
slow, rocking gently on its patches

of salt-rust, its broad bellyful of cars.
Cormorants are drying their wings

like dark angels resting from the hunt;
humpback mountains fall over

themselves to fill the horizon,
dusted with snow and ancient

words that have turned to dry bracken,
or are caught, mirrored in the loch’s dark shimmer,

reflections of how this place was once thought into being,
strange and somehow familiar, guessed at, untamed.

Later, along the wet coast road,
I watch seals blubber themselves onto boulders,

heavy on bellyfuls of fish, and envy them their balance,
the way they rock gently on the point between two worlds.

Samuel Tongue is a widely published poet with his first full collection, Sacrifice Zones (Red Squirrel), published in 2020, which can be bought here. He also has two pamphlet collections: Hauling-Out (Eyewear, 2016) and Stitch (Tapsalteerie, 2018). He held the inaugural Callan Gordon Award as part of the Scottish Book Trust New Writers Awards 2013. He is project coordinator at the Scottish Poetry Library and in addition, holds a PhD in Religion, Literature, and Culture and lectures at the University of Glasgow. Website: and Twitter @SamuelTongue

This poem was first published in Issue 12, which can be read in our Archive.

An Interview with Maria Sledmere


A baby lay dead among bracken and apples.
This the harem of the senses, soft,
succulent apples; apples that knit
and bead the ground
with delicate red and palest, glassiest green.

An ache behind the eyeballs
burns from the other place.

Did it come here, once, in a shroud of glory,
misting the lawns with its rain?
Did the white horse grumble
in its paddock of fool’s gold, waiting
to hear the death knell in vain?

This the scratched-out earth,
which loosens every time
the formula for lost chlorophyll.

A field plough picks the ripest of leaves
for his sweetheart, guessing her name
like an emerald. The rest
shrivel and wither a terrible yellow.

She kindles the snow swirls of another dream
which brightens the sphere of his sleep;
she lifts herself, she says
never mind; in the morning
we will have the sunlight.

[…She dies in the night
like a bay’s cot death, her hair spun gold
on the snow of the pillow.]

He rolls her over
where she has choked
and presses the coldest wax of an apple
gently to those ashen lips.

In the orchard, later, he listens to the wind
with its sullen, rhythmic lisps, lifting
the last seeds from their pods
and sprinkling the grass with pearls of life.

He finds the babe, buried
among the leaves of the sugar maple.
It is light in his hands, like a shell.

He carries it for miles, watching
the skin of it fade to a colourless grey,
where the twilight unveils
its half-finished trellis of muscle and veins.
At home, he sets it on the table
with his Ploughman’s sandwich and pitcher of cider.

He hears it crying in the night;
the still breath of love alive
like vapours of ice

This poem was first published in Issue 38, which can be read in our Archive.

Maria Sledmere is working on a DFA in Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow. She is an occasional music journalist, member of A+E Collective, editor at SPAM Press, Dostoyevsky Wannabe and Gilded Dirt magazine. She co-hosts a podcast, URL Sonata, and workshop series, Pop Matters. Recent publications include nature sounds without nature sounds (Sad Press), Rainbow Arcadia (Face Press) and infra•structure (Broken Sleep), with Katy Lewis Hood. Her poem ‘Ariosos for Lavish Matter’ was highly commended in the 2020 Forward Prize, and her work was included in makar / unmakar (Tapsalteerie, 2019), an anthology of contemporary poets in Scotland. With Rhian Williams, she is co-editing the forthcoming anthology, The Weird Folds: Everyday Poems from the Anthropocene (Dostoyevsky Wannabe). 

FGTS: You’re one of the highly-regarded editors of SPAM Press, which brings poetry into the post-internet age through a fine-tuned balance between irony and sincerity, online and IRL (or as IRL as anything can be these days!) How did your involvement with SPAM begin, and how does your work as an editor feed into your writing?

MS: First of all, thanks for inviting me to answer the questions, and for your description of SPAM which is so spot on! The difference between the online and IRL definitely feels more like an oscillation between these days, more than ever, and the fact that we had to launch issue ten of SPAM zine (Millennium Megabus) on Zoom after nine previous parties (in an actual nightclub, wow, remember those) is testament to that. SPAM was founded in 2016 and I joined a few months later. The story (practically a meme at this point) is that the issue theme I’d submitted poems to, ‘Glitch’, encouraged Tom McCarthy rip-offs. Tom McCarthy, as in the pinstriped author of Remainder and devotee of words such as ‘buffering’, ‘Orpheus’ and ‘aeroplane’. In my cover letter I’d expressed my adoration of Tom and then not long after that Denise Bonetti, the editor-in-chief, tracked me down via the socials and sprung upon me one IRL afternoon outside the Glasgow Uni Library. After she’d confirmed my TC fandom was authentic and equal to hers, I was asked to join her and co-founder Maebh Harper as an editor. I remember getting this Facebook message on Christmas Eve, I was at work, and I was so chuffed I knocked over about twenty wine glasses I’d just spent an hour polishing. Many publications, emails, meetings and parties later, the rest is history and a very cute and tumultuous collection of browser cookies. 

Editing has taught me a lot about putting work together, curation, structure, ethics, publishing and design, marketing, reception and criticism, as much as it has about paying attention to textual detail (which I am apt to neglect, being quite a fast and impatient writer who cut her teeth blogging incessantly). When we’re choosing work for the zine, anthologies or the new online magazine with SPAM, we work as a team entirely and every final decision on what gets included is a group effort. So I’m learning how to read a piece different ways: say Max (Parnell, fellow SPAM editor) wants to fight to include a poem we’re otherwise not too keen on, he’s going to share his reading of it with us and I’m going to see the poem in a whole other way. Sometimes that sways the decision, other times not. Talking through a range of possible readings with others affects how I see my own writing: I’ve never really been precious about my work, but I’m even less so now. You write it and then you sort of give it up to others, maybe you write some more. I like it when someone critiques my lines or has comments, suggestions; the sense that the process of writing and reading is always collaborative, even when the work is out there. 

Being an editor for presses like SPAM and Dostoyevsky Wannabe affords me the great privilege of reading such a range of new work (often as it is with SPAM, from the sublime to the ridiculous – Mallarmé translations by Peter Mansion alongside meme-poems and cruise liner reviews, I love it all) and that feeds into my own writing, the sense of newness, experiment, possibility. Mixing of cultural forms and materials. There’s an energy to editing and an energy required of it. I’ve read over 100 full-length manuscripts in the space of a month. The email exchanges with contributors and poets really sustain me — I still love the generosity and vulnerability of sending someone work and being sent work — I think we all learn a lot from the dialogues involved in finalising a manuscript. Sometimes it’s a sense of sheer joy and privilege to work with writers I admire and that definitely feeds back into my own ideas and practice. For example, recently I’ve been working with the wonderful Jane Goldman on her forthcoming Dostoyevsky Wannabe manuscript, SEKXPHRASTICS, which has really challenged and opened up my understanding of what ekphrasis and innovative citation practice can achieve through prisms of queer intimacy, friendship and intersectional feminism. And reading Samantha Walton’s Bad Moon, forthcoming with SPAM, was such a treat and inspiration – I’ve long admired Sam’s poetry, its engagement with the ecopoetics and politics of voice and form. 

You recently ran a workshop series called ‘Pop Matters’ with Conner Milliken, you’ve been a co-host on SPAM’s podcast URL SONATA, and you’re working on your DFA at the University of Glasgow. Every time we look, it seems as though you’re up to something new and exciting! How do you make time for all your different projects?

Pop Matters is so much fun! We started it as a lockdown project to make weekly contact with people and provide an informal space, a kind of virtual studio, for people to vent their anxieties, thoughts and hopes. And each week in the midst of quarantine stress I’d see the faces of friends, writers, musicians, artists, colleagues, comrades, all of us writing together. It was such a treat to work with Conner – I’m constantly inspired by his kindness, humour, vehement spirit, political attentiveness and enduring solidarity – and that’s the crux of it really. I like doing all these projects because it’s an excuse to work with people whose work I admire and who I otherwise love – writing can be so solitary! For example, being in A+E (Art + Ecology Collective) with Finn Arschavir, Ane Lopez and Lucy Watkins means I get to constantly be in touch with and learn from practicing designers and artists, I get to situate writing in these art spaces, to think more collaboratively across forms. I learn a lot from their thought process and there’s a lot of informal skill swapping. Like with SPAM we are always developing the dynamics of working as a team – on projects ranging from speculative performance, installation, film, reading groups and workshops. The podcast has also been such a lifesaver in lockdown: an excuse to stay in touch, do light reading, reminisce and pick the brains of special guests in the virtual studio. I tell you, I’ve not had to do one single Zoom quiz in lockdown!

I waitressed for most of my twenties, often juggling this with full-time undergrad and postgrad study. The thing about waitressing, I was talking to Denise about this recently, is that when you’re given a task it’s often on top of a to-do list that’s already six, seven, eight tasks long. Can you run food to table 5, get the pepper grinder for table 3, there’s plates to clear outside, you need to go sign the req, the phone’s ringing, someone’s asking about the rota, tables 10-11 need reset, where have the napkins gone?, there are walk-ins approaching your section, you need to check tonight’s bookings, you really need to fucking pee. I think I’ve transferred some of that constant task-juggling to my otherwise life of academia, editing, journalism and writing. It’s just that all that sociality and complication is more or less on twitter, Google Drive or my inbox now. I’m still learning to slow the pace and appreciate that stuff doesn’t need to get done as urgently as it often does in hospitality. I guess being a Gemini with a low attention span also helps; I procrastinate one thing with another. Can’t work on the conference paper? Try writing an album review, reading submissions or answering those order queries. I wish I had a more advisable, healthy and sustainable answer. I want to spend time getting into a work and slow down for it; I’ve been writing more by hand and reading more physical books in lockdown. There’s a point where pdfs just blur into a migraine highway. It’s getting harder to parcel out time and structure the day, in the absence of other places to work or play. I really miss gigs, trains and IRL seminars! Mostly I end up awake at 3am trying to write poems about communist hedgehogs. 

What have you been reading recently, and what excites you in new writing these days?

So after finishing the incredible Wayward Lives by Saidiya Hartman, I’ve been delving into my Fred Moten back catalogue, including all his lectures online. There’s something in the grain of his voice, this warmth, openness; the interest in the vernacular, a turn of phrase, a fragment of something remembered or passed down. It’s a much more generous, expansive and collaborative practice of study – a whole musical thing. Everyone in a university or otherwise institution should read his book The Undercommons, with Stefano Harney. But also the poetry, it’s brilliant. Blue, blurry, warm. The landscaped shape of the books also – that sense of a score or horizon, the length. I’m loving All that Beauty right now.

Everything Verity Spott does blows me away, I can hardly explain it. She’s fierce and hilarious, sharp as hell, and her writing is stunning and magical and sometimes tender. You should watch some of her epic performances on YouTube, especially this one – a full-length reading of her book Click Away Close Door Say (Contraband Books). People should do more full-length readings, no? We have all the no-time in the world now! I’d love to hear more people read their whole pamphlets, especially if it’s recorded so I can pause and come back to it, the way I often do with films.

I’ve been going through a bit of a New York phase, rereading Eileen Myles’ Chelsea Girls and then Inferno. Something about the pace of their writing always excites me, and the richness of voice, documentation and self-reflection in the prose especially. I’m always so carried. The drama of life right now, even as we sorta come out of lockdown, is still pretty confined to the news. Reading Myles you wanna drink beer in bed, have lots of sex, write poems. Take permission. Light. I’m also devouring everything I can find of Bernadette Mayer’s, as I have been in the last couple years since the brilliant Colin Herd introduced me to her. There’s a reprint of her book/installation Memory that’s just come out in hardback from Siglio Press and it’s beautiful – the poems and the photographs, the stuff on colour (Bernadette is a synaesthete, which I can partially relate to). Also Alice Notley’s Certain Magical Acts and the recent For the Ride, which is this wild, refracting trip around a much more exciting chaos and world’s end than the one in which we are living. Or maybe they’re augmentations of each other. 

Every now and then I also dip into these gorgeous little pamphlets of sonnets that Ian Heames (editor of Face Press) does. There are these startling moments of presence and intensity: whether it’s a helicopter being flown through the poem or lines like ‘Now I am really standing in the road / and want to overspend on cashmere’. But again a sort of lightness of matter and gatherings. I read the amazing Peter Gizzi for that also (and so much of his book Sky Burial in recent months, the elegy and beauty of it, has meant the world to me). I think I’m looking for work that can really push what is understood by the Anthropocene, beyond the established bounds of ecopoetics and nature poetry, and this sense as a mediated condition. And the everyday. Poetry being written that acknowledges its post-internet condition through innovative registers and form, but also poetry that feels in a lyric or Romantic tradition somehow, that fucks about with space and time, that really has a faith in voice and song and that potential to communicate or find intimacy in a word, a space, a line. I want portals in poems, as well as exits, and flight. Refusal.

FGTS published your poem ‘Metempsychosis’ in Issue 38. Do you remember what led into the making of this poem?

I seem to remember it was based on a dream I had, at a time when I was having quite narrative dreams. I wasn’t sleeping very much at the time, maybe averaging four hours a night. In Chelsea Girls Eileen Myles says ‘Dreaming is like getting drunk alone, the less you live the more you dream, the more fantastic and outrageous the dreams get’. Maybe I was going through a dry spell socially. It’s kind of disturbing to read back, but I remember it came out all at once, as these poems often do, a sort of unfurling of actions and scenes. I don’t write narrative poems so much but maybe this sorta counts. And Anthony Daly was my editor; he had some really nice advice on polishing the poem up to bring out the music and imagery. Reading it back now, it’s funny how a lot of those ideas still haunt my work: a sort of weird ecology, necropastoral, dream imaginaries and twists of surrealism, scorched earth, the weather, foliage and chlorophyll – I mean, Chlorophyllia is the title of my next pamphlet (forthcoming from OrangeApple Press)! I remember at the launch I was doing a reading wearing this kind of long vintage dress and the light in the pub was really pale and later someone commented that I resembled an undead Brontë heroine, which I guess fit the vibe of the poem somehow. I went through a phase of reading all those strange kinda mystical, lovely lyrics that Emily wrote; I had a little copy that I carried around on walks for a bit.

Finally, could you tell us a little bit about what you’re working on these days?

The next part of my PhD thesis, which is practice-based and titled ‘Hypercritique: Towards a Lyric Architecture for the Anthropocene’, is looking at the material poetics of glass and glasshouses. I am thinking of broken glass and light and breath, of space within spaces, prisms. I’m reading Derrida, Layli Long Soldier, Sean Bonney and Clarice Lispector. I’m also finalising a couple of my own pamphlets that are coming out this year, alongside some editorial work for SPAM (we’ve got some really exciting titles from Oli Hazzard, Sam Walton, and Lizzie McCreadie still to come this year) and Dostoyevsky Wannabe. With Rhian Williams, I’ve been co-editing an anthology titled The Weird Folds: Everyday Poems from the Anthropocene which is forthcoming from Dostoyevsky. That’s been so exciting and such a privilege to work with Rhian, who is such a shining intellectual light for me, and pull together loads of UK writers who I absolutely love and admire — too many to name! A+E Collective are working with solarpunk/petrocultures academic Rhys Williams plus anthropologists Dominic Boyer and Cymene Howe (who run the Cultures of Energy podcast) on a project for COP26 on the topic of ‘low-carbon pleasures’. A collaborative poem, sans soleil with fred spoliar and a panel, ‘”To spill the frame”: Reimagining Intimacies in Anthropocene Poetics and Citational Practice’, with Fred Carter and Katy Lewis Hood for ASLE’s Out of the Blue conference. Oh, and growing my hair, getting better at yoga. Putting together my first lecture. Painting more.

‘You write it and then you sort of give it up to others, maybe you write some more… …the process of writing and reading is always collaborative, even when the work is out there.’ – Maria Sledmere


by Richie McCaffery

He collected postcards, old ones,
particularly from places bombed
or bulldozed, where street names
were just the hearsay of ghosts,
their stamps colourful shibboleths.
He’d vanish for days with no word
in search of those lost addresses.
Nowadays we wait for postcards
he sends second-class from the night.
They always say wish you were here.

Richie McCaffery is from the small Northumbrian village of Warkworth. He now lives in Alnwick, Northumberland after four years spent abroad in Belgium. He studied English and Scottish Literature at Stirling University and received a Carnegie grant to do a PhD on the Scottish poetry of World War Two at the University of Glasgow, which he was awarded in 2016.

He is the author of two poetry pamphlets: Spinning Plates from HappenStance Press and Ballast Flint from Cromarty Arts Trust and two full poetry collections, Cairn and Passport, both from Nine Arches Press.

This poem was first published in Issue 24, the rest of which can be read in our Archive.

Fantasy Writing Advice from Madalena Daleziou

Madalena’s poem The Boy Who Hated Yellow was published in Issue 44, which can be read here. In this video Madalena passes on some tools that she has found useful when writing. Hear how she uses Pinterest, playlists, and an animated forest app to build fantasy worlds and beat procrastination…

Madalena Daleziou is a postgraduate student pursuing the Fantasy MLitt
at the University of Glasgow. She is currently editing her first fantasy novel.
Apart from writing, her interests include animation, theater, photography,
and language learning. She can most often be found in a bookshop or
behind a keyboard, writing stories with too many ghosts.

The End of the Day

by Kathrine Sowerby

Marion and I sit half way up the dune while the boys run in different directions below. The tide is as far out as it will go. In the distance white horses tip and glisten on the water under the crisp line of Raasay and we watch the last families pack up and leave the beach. One has a sledge to pull all the shoes, the wet towels, changes of clothes across the sand. A couple walks ahead of their crying daughter while her protests are carried downwind. Another family peel off their matching wetsuits, deflate their dinghy, and walk inland in order of size. Our older boys have clambered out of sight past the headland. The youngest is near the water burying his truck, digging it up, burying it again. Let’s round them up, I say to Marion then run in deep strides down the dune. The turn‐ups of my jeans, full of sand, are weights bumping against my ankles.

The wind falls away as we reach the grassy curve of the bay and we
brush away the pinpricks of biting midges. We take the path that cuts through
the ferns and I tell the boys to mind out for dog shit at the side of the path, to
remember and check for tics later on. There’s a ditch where the path meets the
road that leads down to the military base, up to the car park, and the older
boys and Marion scramble up, laden with bags and boots. I’m dawdling at the
pace of my youngest. He treads carefully on the gravel, his little feet angry at
the transition from sand to stones. A woman is coming down the road.

She has grey, cropped hair and a beige skirt, in her sixties, early
seventies I guess, and carrying a metal detector. I prepare a greeting in my
head. You’ll have the place to yourself, I’ll say. Happy hunting. But she
doesn’t meet my gaze. Her jacket is open and I think for a second she’s
wearing a superman T‐shirt but as she walks past, head down, I recognise the
Lonsdale logo. I remember a flatmate at university and his brother who came
to visit without warning. His head was shaved, his maroon DM’s laced to the
knee. He wore the same T‐shirt. I turn and walk backwards watching her. On
her back is a Converse rucksack. It dips above and below the line of the ferns.
My son takes my hand and pulls me back round.

Marion and the older boys are leaning against our car parked on the
grassy verge. The only car left in the car park is an old Ford Fiesta. Haven’t
seen one of those in a while, I think. You’ve got the keys, I say to Marion. I gave them to you, she says. I pat my pockets, pull my cagoule from the bag
and shake it. A lighter, a dud biro and a train ticket fall to the ground. Marion
is looking at me, arms crossed. Check again, she says. I stick my hand deep
into one pocket after the other and find nothing. Fuck.

The truth is I’m calm. We’ve had a great day and I’ll wander down to
the beach, retrace our movements. I’m confident. I’ll be as quick as I can, I say.
Marion is taking the Tupperware box from the bag, rooting through the crusts
and sucked flat juice cartons.

I glance up at the dune scraped out of the hillside where a single red
welly is lying at the foot of its slope and I head for the cluster of rocks that
was our base for the day. The woman from the road is on the hard sand near
the water swinging the metal detector in slow arcs in front of her. As she
walks steadily forward water pools in her footprints.

Excuse me, I shout. She doesn’t hear me. I walk closer. Excuse me, I
shout again and she turns, a startled look on her face. I was wondering, I say,
I’ve lost my keys. We were sitting over there. I point to the rocks, black now
in the flat, end of day, light. The woman is staring at me and I think for a
second maybe she doesn’t speak English. There was a German man and his
young daughter on the beach earlier. They lay on their towels, then walked
into the sea, thigh high, and splashed water up their lean torsos. My keys, I
say again, have you seen them? She shakes her head.

I look back at the sand dune, to the other side of the bay, out to sea and
back at the woman. She is standing with her hand in her pocket and I want to
ask her to show me what she has in there. I imagine her fingers curled round
old coins, bottle tops. They have a bottle opener as a key ring, I say, a silver
one. I haven’t seen them, she says.

I walk inland searching for a glint of metal. The wet sand turns to
powder with ridges of shattered shells. The millions of tiny fragments fill my
vision and make my eyes ache. I walk back to the shore. The woman is a
silhouette against the water. I lift my hand to shield my eyes, bring her into
focus. Can I borrow it? She looks at me blankly. Your metal detector. Oh, she
says, I don’t think so. She clutches it to her as if it were her child. They could
be anywhere, I say. I notice she’s wearing canvas shoes. The water has crept
over the soles and sodden the material. Will you be out here long, I ask. Can
you help me, perhaps. My family…

I don’t really like anyone else using it, she says. Her voice is soft but
firm. Surely, I say and step towards her. She steps back. You could walk alongside me. I take another step towards her and I’ve got my hand on the
aluminium rod of the detector. You’re being a bit unreasonable, I say giving it
a tug. She has both hands on it now, pulling away from me. We stay like this
for a while, pulling backwards and forwards then I let go. She staggers. Her
mouth opens but no sound comes out. She’s falling and I lunge to catch her
but instead I land on her with my full weight.

Something is pressing into the skin on my forehead and when I open
my eyes I see the teeth of her zip and the letters, N, S, D, rumpled across her
chest. I watch the cotton for its rise and fall, but it’s still. My head is on her
and all I can hear is the muffled breaking of waves. Eventually I lever myself
to one side. Her head is tilted forward at too sharp an angle, propped up by a
rock. Her eyes are open, looking past me. I get up and walk quickly without
looking back. There’s no one around. The sky is clouding over.

I step from the sand to the grass and there, lying in the middle of the
path, are the keys. I’d forgotten. They’re not hidden, not tucked under
anything, obscured from view, just sitting there, like someone has simply put
them down. I pick them up and clench my fist around them, pressing the
blade into the fat of my palm.

Voices echo round the hills, sliced through for the coastal road to pass.
I follow the curve in the path and see my eldest sons sheltering under an
overhang, hands cupped at their mouths. Marion is sitting on a rock in the car
park. The rock is dotted with shells cast in resin and information plaques
about the geology of the area. The shells look ridiculous. I think of a climbing
wall we took the boys to once and the plastic footholds carefully arranged to
give the best climb. I made it to the top but had to be guided down by an
instructor. By the time I reached the ground my hands were shaking

I’ve got them. I hold the keys in the air. He’s got them, Marion shouts
up to the older boys. She climbs off the rock and helps our youngest to get
down. Where were they? Marion asks. Her hair is pressed in damp curls to
her forehead. It’s starting to rain, I say, let’s get going.

Kathrine Sowerby lives in Glasgow and is the author of story and poetry collections The Spit, the Sound and the Nest and House However (Vagabond Voices). Her new book Tutu will be published by Dostoyevsky Wannabe in 2021. 

This story was first published in Issue 18, the rest of which can be read in our Archive.

An Interview with JL Williams


To wake, to describe music, she thinks
“This is so moving it feels as if
something is coming loose in me.”

To wake from the ship she drags
from canal to canal over wet cement,
fag in her mouth, her husband and lover dead.

To wake from her stood at the late cart,
a dark man selling candy or a pill with syrup inside.
Some woman of the night leans by and says,
“Darling, if you knew what happened
when I took that last,” as she swallows the sweet, sweet…

To wake in the glass canal light of an empty street,
worn grain of the wood of the deck on my cheek;
the doors of an empty city float by
as if in a dream, her life caught
between my mind’s eye and the careless lip of reality.

This poem was first published in Issue 11, which can be read in our archive.

Books by JL Williams include Condition of Fire, Locust and Marlin, House of the Tragic Poet, and After Economy. She is interested in expanding dialogues through writing across languages, perspectives and cultures and in multimodal and cross-form work, visual art, dance, opera and theatre.

Published widely in journals, her poetry has been translated into numerous languages. She has read at international literature festivals and venues in the UK, Sweden, Germany, Denmark, Turkey, Cyprus, Canada, Hungary, Romania, Montenegro and the US. She wrote the libretto for a new opera, Snow, was Writer-in-Residence for the British Art Show 8 in Edinburgh and plays in the poetry and music band Hail of Bright Stones. In 2019, she was awarded a bursary to develop a new opera with composer Samantha Fernando at the Royal Opera House. Williams curates writing events and creates workshops and professional development activities for poets.

FGTS: JL, in a Q&A back in issue 23 of FGTS you said that the book you wished you’d written was The Metamorphoses by Ovid. In your collection Condition of Fire, you responded to those stories. What draws you to myths and old tales, and how do they interact with our contemporary world?

JL: Life is so fleeting. Beginnings and endings rush past. Human beings are natural storytellers. We have language, we have narrative, we have drawings on cave walls, we have time, we have fire. I had a baby seven months ago, and I can feel the story in her already even before the words take hold. Listening to the tales of the ancients… it is an honour to be able to hear some echo from their minds and beating hearts. It reminds me that we are all connected, that this experience of being human is a shared one. Even when it feels as if life is flashing by, or especially when it is, I draw comfort from the depth of experience of humanity. We repeat ourselves. It is nature, it is what we are. As a species on the verge of collapse, there is much we could learn from the myths and legends of our ancestors.  

You often work with other writers, musicians, theatre-makers, sound and visual artists. Why is collaboration important to you, and how do other disciplines and artforms influence your writing?

Collaboration is an exercise in communication, which is what all art (I include writing in that box) is aching toward. When I was younger, I often felt isolated from other people – I wanted to be able to read minds. At some point I realised that reading is a kind of clairvoyance, as is listening to music or looking at a painting. We are not so alone and making with others not only opens doors between locked rooms, but it also allows me to do so much more than I could on my own. Art forms such as theatre and opera demand collaboration. You cannot do it on your own. Working in those areas has been very joyful and educational for me. Our culture puts so much, perhaps too much, importance on the value and power of the individual. It is good to write on my own, to feel the privacy and independence of that, and then to expand into collectivity and conversation.  

I am also very interested in mutation and shape shifting, poetry becoming a painting or vice versa. Something beyond ekphrasis, a kind of tapping into and translation of the maker’s energy. If you listen hard enough you can pull it from one form into another. I like the idea of writing a libretto, sculpting a figure, editing a film and knowing that if I am doing it, I am still writing a poem. It can go the other way as well — the energy of film, sculpture, music into poem. 

What have you been reading recently, and what excites you in new writing these days?

I have been reading baby books! Especially enjoying Phillipa Perry’s The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read (and Your Children Will Be Glad That You Did) – everyone should read that one, and Safe Infant Sleep: Expert Answers to Your Cosleeping Questions by James McKenna. 

Two new poetry favourites are Morgan Parker and Yona Harvey

A dear friend introduced me to the work of Ariana Reines and I am keenly awaiting my copy of A Sand Book. Another dear friend just advised me to read Lote by Shola von Reinhold.

Tess Taylor’s Rift Zone and Last West: Roadsongs for Dorothea Lange arrived from the US last week, and Shara McCallum has a new book due soon that I’m eagerly awaiting. 

I am a big fan of too many local poets to name but I write with a group called 12 and they are super amazing. I had the privilege of mentoring four poets for the Clydebuilt programme last year and they are each very special – David Linklater, Frank McHugh, Roy Patience and Hannah Summers.

I get excited when I hear words that seem to be coming from the origin, a place deep inside the writer.

FGTS published your poem ‘Image’ in issue 11, do you remember what led into the making of this poem?

Gosh it was a long, long time ago… I do not remember exactly but I am sure the ship dragging came from a documentary I watched about Vikings in Russia pulling boats overland between rivers. It is a dream poem and I suspect it did come at least in part from a dream. I sometimes use dreams as a starting point, then try to make them into something else. 

Finally, is there something from your time at the University of Glasgow that you hold onto and continues to inform your writing practice today?

Michael Schmidt encouraged us to get the ‘I’ out of our poetry. I avoided that ‘I’ for ages but I have been letting it back in, which feels like a reclamation. It is good to be aware of the ‘I’ though… 

Most importantly I think it’s the people I met there, the wonderful writers and the sense of community, those folks and others I have met since who buoy me and inspire me to write from the origin and sing with the collective. 

‘As a species on the verge of collapse, there is much we could learn from the myths and legends of our ancestors.’ – JL Williams

Liquorice Woman

by Angie Spoto

I am a liquorice woman 
a fennel creature 
a saffron thing that doesn’t care 
for your opinions or your thoughts on the matter 
or your advice to me because I’m not asking 
I’m just here reading 
and that doesn’t mean I want to talk 
it doesn’t mean I want you in my ear 
or your fingernail running rogue 
across the grains here 
at the table in this low-lit 
pub where 
let me repeat myself 
I’m just reading 
reading by myself here 
and running a grain of fennel 
around my teeth 
crushing it between molars 
and flicking it across my 
two incisors and telling you again 
look I’m just reading. 

Did you know 
I’m a liquorice woman? 
I’m a pepper thing 
I’m a girl with cardamom 
stuck between her teeth 
and let me say this one more time: 

Angie Spoto is an American fiction writer and poet. Writers who inspire her include Angela Carter, Leonora Carrington, and Ursula Le Guin. Her most recent endeavours include a lyrical essay about her Italian family, a collection of horror surrealist fairy tales, and a fantasy novel about grief. She is working toward a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow and volunteers with the Glasgow-based social enterprise Uncovered Artistry, which supports the creativity of domestic and sexual abuse survivors. She is Artist in Residence at HIV Scotland. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies, including Crooked Holster, From Glasgow to Saturn, and Toad Suck Review.

This poem was first published in Issue 38, the rest of which can be read in our archive.

Writing Advice from Siam Hatzaw

Siam’s poem ‘October Skies’ was published in Issue 44, which can be read here. In this video Siam gives some great tips to help get you writing when you’re feeling stuck. How can Twitter bots, Google translate, and Ancient Hebrew come in handy? Watch the video to find out…

Siam Hatzaw is a recent graduate of English Literature and Theology. She enjoys working in both prose and poetic forms, and has been published in Life On A Dead Tree, Loud Women Magazine, and The Shiloh Project, among others. She is the content coordinator for Glasgow University Magazine, features editor for The Glasgow Guardian, and prose and poetry editor for Persephone’s Daughters, an arts and literature journal dedicated to empowering survivors of trauma and abuse.

“Loosen up the restrictions a little bit”

An Interview with Ryan Vance


I need love like a microwave
to turn me inside out
as popcorn in slow-motion:
cracked kernel curves unfolding
for easy sustenance
good health

I don’t care if I burn
some people like charcoal

but I want expansion
and yield
an application of heat
in close quarters
lest I, hard and shiny,
not yet tender and exploded
crack a smile

when at long last
with an open hand
curled at the tips
to stop my spill

we ping

and I’ll know I’m ready

still waiting for my salt
still waiting for my sweet
hot butter

This poem was first published in Issue 37, which can be read in our archive.

Ryan Vance is a writer, editor, designer and general literary busybody, with a penchant for speculative fiction and queer representation, based in Glasgow, Scotland. Occasionally dabbles with photography and gaming, and continually pines for the perfect dancefloor.

FGTS: Ryan you recently published a digital pamphlet of poetry and short fiction called Minor Mishaps and you are working on your first full collection, One Man’s Trash. Where does writing start for you? What moves you to write?

Ryan: For me, writing begins at the end – knowing that when you send something creative out into the world, you’re setting up a moment of connection. We all hold these vast private universes inside ourselves, and for the most part our star-maps align, and that’s great, it’s reassuring. But every so often we discover constellations completely unknown, and exploring those uncharted territories can be intimidating and lonely. If you come out the other side with a story to tell, there’s a chance someone listening might say, hey, actually, I’ve been there too – and then this anomaly you thought nobody would ever be able to explain becomes a shared resonance. Being able to create that instant of discovery is really special.

Which is a fancy long-winded way of saying: I crave validation!

You are also an editor, working on Gutter, We Were Always Here, and The Queen’s Head. All of these projects have been rooted in Glasgow, and Scotland more widely, is there anything you think characterises contemporary Scottish or Glaswegian writing?

This is a difficult question for me to answer, because even though Scotland is where I began taking writing seriously, and all my projects have grown from the Scottish writing community, and I’ve lived my entire adult life in Glasgow… I’m not Scottish. I’m Northern Irish. Even though I would accept Scottish nationality in a split second, I know I don’t share the deep cultural roots which would afford me the validity to say anything conclusive on what characterises Scottish writing, contemporary or otherwise. 

What this status does allow me, however, is a small degree of perspective on how open Scottish culture is to outsiders – and it’s a mixed bag. There’s this pervasive idea that Scotland aspires to be a progressive utopia, and compared to other parts of the UK it’s easy to assume that’s been achieved, but I don’t personally believe we’re even close to celebrating any degree of inclusivity. And as a cis, white, able-bodied, university-educated man, I know I only see the most surface-level effect of exclusion; cleverer people than I, from much more diverse backgrounds, will have more in-depth perspectives on the nuances of cultural exclusion in Scotland. And among communities who do experience discrimination, a conviction persists that change for the better isn’t just possible, but imminent, and worth fighting for. To quote Refuweegee, we’re all fae somewhere. That optimistic, unquenchable solidarity with the wider world feels uniquely Scottish. But the higher you climb through cultural institutions, the more often that openness butts heads with a more conservative idea of Scotland, the more gatekeepers you encounter. And Scotland’s a small country. There aren’t that many gates to keep. But there’s plenty of gatekeepers.

So if there’s one thing that feels particularly remarkable about contemporary Scottish writing, it’s a willingness to recognise the complexity of identity, but it’s a willingness often undercut by the structures that writing exists within, or in spite of. I will say this, though: I think we’re on the cusp of discovering how truly open the Scottish writing community is interested in becoming. There are so many Scottish writers, native or adopted, who previously found it difficult to be heard because of who they were, or where they came from, and personally, I can’t fucking wait for them to storm the gates and take over the castle. It’s long overdue.

What have you been reading recently, and what excites you in new writing these days?

Lately, if you want me to get excited about writing, it has to be done and over with quickly. I love a short, dense book. And I’ve surprised myself by getting very into Joseph Hansen. I’ve never been fond of crime as a genre; for my tastes, it’s too reliant on unflinching realism, brittle understandings of law, and copious dead girls. Which I realise is an unfair generalisation, and one which Hansen disproves with his Dave Brandstetter Mysteries. They follow the exploits of a wealthy, masculine, straight-passing, gay private detective, from the tail end of the 60s through to the beginning of the 90s, with a homophobic father and, eventually, a younger femme black boyfriend, investigating death claims in and around Los Angeles, with the express purpose of withholding money from the recently bereaved, because murder means his company’s insurance policy doesn’t have to pay out. Dave Brandstetter’s a character who can effortlessly navigate nearly every strata of society, during a time when civil rights are going through major upheaval, and he’s unerringly sympathetic to that upheaval, but in order to do his job, by default he has to be the most-hated person in any room. It’s a brilliant example of what crime does best: the interrogation of privilege, power, and the limits of each when faced with the demands of humanism.

Your writing is often involved with queerness and the speculative, how do these two things interact with each other?

How don’t they interact with each other! 

Speculative fiction is about allowing ideas to exist in their own right, whether or not they can be explained by commonly accepted wisdom or understanding, and exploring what happens when you accept those ideas on their own terms, letting them lead you where they want to go, not where you think they should, and trusting that those ideas are able to wholly comprehend themselves and their own internal systems of logic, and then embracing whatever consequences and discoveries that ensue with an open mind.

Queerness is exactly the same, only replace ‘ideas’ with ‘people’.

FGTS published your two poems ‘Show Offs’ and ‘Crackerjack’ in issue 37, do you remember what led into the making of these pieces?

Full disclosure? They’re not that deep. The idea behind ‘Show Offs’ is entirely on the page, which almost disqualifies it as poetry. For ‘Crackerjack’, I watched a super-slow-motion video of a popcorn kernel popping on YouTube and was mesmerised by the beautiful fluid motion of this transformation that, in real-time, is quite violent, and at the time it reflected what I thought love should feel like. For all my high-falutin’ ideas of what drives artists to create, and the multifaceted personal, social and political changes that can come from art, a lot of the art I actually enjoy making lacks finesse. Sometimes you just need to go cartwheel in the grass.

Finally, is there something from your time at the University of Glasgow that you hold onto and continues to inform your writing practice today?

Technical fluency in the Adobe Suite. I didn’t write much fiction during my university days, but I did hold an editorial position on the student newspaper for three years, and because we didn’t have a dedicated designer, every editor was responsible for the layout of their section. It’s a different way of approaching communication, of looking at the world, and of prioritising information. I don’t think even I’m aware of how thoroughly that experience informed my creative process, apart from perhaps being less precious about individual words and more focused on the overall impact of a piece. Years of trying to force florid copy into a finite amount of column space means my editing style can be quite blunt!

‘I think we’re on the cusp of discovering how truly open the Scottish writing community is interested in becoming.’ – Ryan Vance