Archive for April, 2011


Have you ever kept a journal?

Have you been left the life-notes of someone else?

Is this the only legacy for future generations?


We all quite like the idea of immortality – not disappearing without trace, anyway. But

sometimes journals and jottings are the only trace we leave of our journey on the planet.


Would you like to know how to make a good story out of all this material?


An Out of the Box workshop, Memoir and Journaling, led by published writer Elizabeth Gates MA, will teach you how. It will take place on May 7th 2011 (10.00am– 12.30pm)in Lower Heswall, Wirral, UK. £20 per person


For further information, please telephone: 0151 342 3877 or email elizabeth@lonelyfurrowcompany.com





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Every year, on the Isle of Berneray, the selkies – the young seal people – leave the sea for one day only. We take off our sealskins, and dance on the sands, at the water’s edge. We laugh and run and feel a freedom we do not know in our own form. We play at being humans. And, although only for one day, it feels good. A delicious trick.

But, for many generations, our seal mothers and fathers have told us, “Beware the humans who live on these wild islands. They long to be like us – to survive in the sea and know no cold – to play in our world as we can in theirs.”

But we – being young – are not afraid.  We always believe we will win the trick. But – oh, my children – I must tell you the story of how I almost lost you. And of  another grief which came to me instead.

I was the most beautiful of all my sisters and longed to dance on the White Sands with the Prince of Seals, the most handsome and the strongest of his generation.

The Day came. We hauled ourselves out of the turquoise Sea and slid out of our skins. The pile of our pelts grew and grew – black, white, silver, dark brown and mine. Glimmering gold in the sun. The most beautiful you could hope to see.

And then, my children, oh how we danced, your father and I. On sands white as silver against clouds black as steel. We loved our youth. But, then the day was over. My sisters, my brothers, laughing, sought out their skins from the pile.

Then I wept. The skins were gone, my brothers and sisters were gone and I was alone. My beautiful golden skin – it was nowhere to be found. The Prince of Seals was calling me – I could hear him across the waves of the evening sea. His call was lonely. It echoed the loneliness of my own heart. But I could not come back to the sea.

Then, I realised, I would have to find my skin myself. No-one else could help. I curled up on a rock and thought.

Only a human would have had what it took to take my beautiful skin. Certainly, on this lonely, wild island, nothing else had thumbs. But also, nothing else would want to steal something for its beauty, alone. What other use could an empty sealskin serve?

Across the green mounds behind the strand, I could smell the peat fire. Only a human would need  a peat fire. I became sure – my pelt was somewhere near fire. I followed the scent on the air – smoking, bitter, ancient – speaking of earth centuries shared by the sea. Salt in the wind.

My legs pained me to walk. The sun was down to the rim of the now black sea and I, I was desperate to reach the peat fire. The world was suddenly cold, suddenly hostile. Its magic was dying away. I was facing nothing I had ever known.

Then, outlined against the firelight, I saw him. A human, a fisherman, hulked in the darkness, listening to my weeping. “Mortal man!”, I cried out, “mortal man! If you have taken my skin, please give it back to me. Without it, I cannot go home.”

The memory of my Prince of Seals bit into my heart and I wept. But, I was destined to find someone to love me that day. The fisherman led me to his hearth, to his peat fireside, and warmed me with cloth he had woven himself from the wool of the sheep he tended on the Isles and washed with the rain of the Isles’ heaven and dyed with the fruits of the Isles’ rough earth.

I was enchanted. And I stayed. And I bore him a daughter. A beautiful child – entirely perfect – even down to the webs of skin between her tiny fingers and toes. She was so beautiful, your sister. It broke my heart to leave her.

But leave her I did. It happened this way. I loved the fisherman. In my way. I tended him. I tended his cottage. But I could not forget that I did not belong.

Then one day – as I dusted – as human wives do – I saw something gleaming gold in the firelight. Hidden up in the thatch, what I had searched for – all that time – had found me. It was time to go.

At first, I didn’t understand that the choice before me was either/or. I just felt compelled to explore the possibility. I kissed my darling, knowing I was going on an adventure, and would not see her till morning. I ran to the shore, across the white sand and down to the turquoise sea. I drew on my golden pelt, dived from the rocks into the deep and gleaming water and swam towards the setting sun.

After a time, I was aware of a seal swimming alongside me. Your father had waited all those years. And now we could dance again. We reclaimed our sea and I never went back to walk on the land. Which is how you and I come to know each other.

But, I do sometimes swim near the Isle again. And she walks there. And I call to her. She hears the longing in my call. But she does not understand. I call and I call my love to her and she does not understand. . . .

Writing Games

I wrote this story from the point of view of the Seal Wife. When it is told traditionally it is written from the point of view of the fisherman.

1)Rewrite the story from the point of view that excites you – the fisherman, the seal children, the Prince of Seals, the human daughter?

2) Change the form of the story. Write a poem, a ballad, a dialogue . . . anything you want.

3) Consider the most significant moment for you of the story. What made it so striking, important for you? How did the writing help this impact – sensory detail? Moral dilemmas expressed in what imagery? How was the tone created?

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