from the Island of North Uist.

Pauline, now aged 78, is one of the people I interviewed for the book, Autumn Voices. She is both a poet and a painter. Pauline has lived on North Uist since 1997. She trained as an actress and a drama teacher and later took an advanced degree in Special Needs and Dyslexia at Birmingham University, going on to become an adviser and trainer in this area of education.

A storm is forecast. It's the perfect day for blogging indoors. The wind is howling outside and the rain is lashing the windows. We never have to clean the windows or clean our cars.
My writing room which is in the roof above the kitchen, faces north, looking across the sound towards the hills of Harris and Lewis. The sea is at the bottom of the field about 200 yards away. The view is never quite the same in the changing light across this land of wind, and water, and stone.

Robert and I have been living here for twenty years now. We moved here from the county town of Warwick in England, and have never regretted it. Scotland has always been a favourite place of mine. My aunt lived in Edinburgh and as a teenager I spent part of every summer holiday traipsing round enjoying the festival as it used to be, and we often went hosteling up in the highlands.
We spent our honeymoon travelling what is now known as route 500. In those days the road was quite rough. Occasionally we had to move rocks out of the way. When the children were young we trailed our dingy to Loch Ewe, camped in a crofters field, and sailed around for weeks at a time.

I’m three quarters Yorkshire and one quarter Irish and as a girl lived within easy reach of the sea, but Warwick is just about as far inland as you can be. In the summer of 1997 we visited North Uist for three weeks, and after two weeks, we began to look for a house and found this croft house. In 1998 we moved in. We came for the sea, the space, the peace, the calm of the place, and found
security and a wonderful sense of community and the kindness of neighbours.

Up until then, my poems had always been about the preoccupations of women, our juggling lives, coping with husbands, children, the domestic scene, as well as working full time outside the home.
I didn't really imagine writing about the sea. I was just happy walking beside it; sometimes swimming in it. Gradually though, on my walks, I began to scribble bits and pieces in my notebook, often sitting in the dunes out of the wind to write about the sea, the shore, the light. This lead to my first collection about North Uist, called “Storm Biscuits” and then to a pamphlet called “North Uist Sea Poems”. It was a bit like a journal; diary entries which became short poems, recording the state of the sea and the shore on my frequent visits from October 2004. It ended with poems about the violent storm which swept the island in January 2005, devastating many homes and drowning a whole family, grandfather, mother, father, and two young children.

To my amazement, the pamphlet won the prestigious Callum Macdonald Memorial Award. That was when I got to know Tessa Ransford who was so kind and supportive, introducing me to a whole host of wonderful Scottish poets and making opportunities for me to read. It was through her that I became a registered poet with the Scottish Book Trust.

Perhaps this is the place to mention painting. Write about the landscape, made me realise I was going to need a new vocabulary and a way of looking closely, so I decided to enrol on the art course which runs at Taigh Chearsabhagh Arts Centre and Museum in Lochmaddy. It is a UHI course and I studied painting and drawing part time for three years. At the time I didn't imagine that I would become a painter as well as a poet. Taigh Chearsabhagh has a very important place in my life. For the past 18 years I have been organising monthly poetry events and running a monthly writing workshop. I have served time on the TC board and on the Uist Arts Association committee as chair, secretary and now committee member for literature events.

Last year, I published a selected works of my poems about women called “Be an Angel”. This year a revised edition of “Storm Biscuits” includes many more of my island poems.
Just now I am working on a collection of poems called “Written on the Shore”. There are poems about footprints, shells, what the sea leaves on the beach, thoughts people have when they find themselves in this vast emptiness. A wool coat features several times and there is a mention of angels, but at the heart of the collection is a sequence about the sea being in love with a woman who walks along the edge of the tide. I'm hoping to launch it in 2019.


arriving at the sea

it is as if
until this moment
we have held our breath
tight in our chests
and only now
dare to let go

as if in towns
and cities
we are not free
and only the sea
releases us

we are all in love
with the sea.


We hadn’t seen him for weeks.

I’d just sprinkled incense
into the hot pool,

was lying there in starlight
sipping iced nectar
listening to the nightingales.

He appeared out of nowhere
in complete meltdown
bellowing my name.

I stood my ground
without a towel,

“It was only an apple for god’s sake.
And I only took one bite.
Get over it.”

He crept away and I
stepped back into the pool.

It was a fundamental moment.