TODAY we conclude our spotlight on the winners of Inspired? - Get Writing, the annual creative writing competition jointly organised by the National Galleries of Scotland, the English-Speaking Union and the Scottish Poetry Library, and supported by The Scotsman.
The competition is open to children and adults, writing poetry and prose – the only requirement is that the writing must be inspired by a piece of art at the National Galleries of Scotland.
Category: Under 12 years
Winner: I, Statue by Nathan Ezra-Jackson, from James Gillespie’s Primary School, Edinburgh
Inspired by: Vulcan by Eduardo Paolozzi
IF YOU happened to be in the grounds of a certain art gallery in the middle of the night, and you peeked through a window of the place, you would see a massive shadow moving like a huge bat, flitting across the artwork on display. Vibrations would ripple through the ground and the occasional dull clang would echo from the gallery. And soon you would be scared off, running faster than a rabbit from a hunter in rabbit season. As you flee, a question might blossom in your head.
What is it?
I, statue. Me. On one of my occasional midnight strolls through the gallery. Being a twenty-four foot high statue isn’t much fun, as you can imagine. Especially if you have a limp and you’ve been standing every day in the exact same spot for most of your life. Guessed already? I’m Vulcan. It’s a lonely, solitary life. On my regular walks, all of the paintings scream when they see me. The other statues cower and hide when I come stomping by. All of the other artworks are scared of me. Tourists are worse. Don’t get me started on where they stick their gum. The stories I can tell. You’d be amazed. Anyway, it was on one of those night-walks when I started pondering over what I am. Am I art? Or am I Vulcan? What is art? Anything could be art, really, now that I think about it. Even me. It’s freaky, the idea that I could be art.
As I plodded about one particular night, I thought about my past, before I got a home in the gallery. I settled down next to a petrified painting and tried to meditate. I’ve never thought about my past, but now I think I’m gonna write an autobiography. I’ll make it short and sweet. By the way, my life story’s much different than you might think. All of the factfiles and things on me … are not entirely accurate. So here I go.
I didn’t have a mother or a father. I had a creator. My earliest memories are of being limbless and my arms and legs getting added on to me. It was a bit concerning seeing my various parts being made. Now that I think about it, I s’pose my maker Eduardo Paolozzi was my father, and the blowtorch that welded me was my mother. In a way. Those memories are distorted, but happy. I recall I lived in a nice private place once, a studio. My master lived there with me and he attended to me a lot. I met some other statues: and I had a friend, Newton. He was a little bronze statue, only eight feet tall or something, but he had a huge ego, hence his name: Master of the Universe! He was really brainy and we talked loads. He was always fiddling about with his measuring instruments but I didn’t have the heart to tell him that they were welded to him so he kept on measuring the same things over and over again. Nevertheless, we were firm friends. Then we heard that he was going to be taken away and put outside a place where there’re loads of paintings (I didn’t know it at the time, but this was also to be my future home).
Of course, he complained and stomped about a lot. But some men came and took him away. This was really sad for me, and I shed metal tears which banged off the floor like nails. Now my master was making another statue, of a giant foot. And he needed help. He had a deadline. A lot of resources and money were being poured into it, but he couldn’t seem to forge it. Every time he tried, it wasn’t good enough, it was ugly and crude.
Now here’s where I come in. I was just standing there still when Ed ran into the room I was in and started pulling his hair out. “Someone!” he cried. “Someone needs to help! PLEASE, ANYONE!” he howled, before diving to the ground in despair.
I remembered some facts about myself. I’m Vulcan, god of forging and blacksmiths. I can help! I thought suddenly. But I couldn’t move in front of him. The Three Laws of Statues prevented that:
1 A statue shall not reveal that it is a living being to a human.
2 A statue must allow a human to look at it, as long as this does not conflict with the first law.
3 A statue shall respect and value the importance of other statues and works of art, and humans, if this does not conflict with any of the previous laws.
I thought about what I should do. If I made the statue wouldn’t that risk revealing that I was a living being, breaking the First Law? But I went ahead and built it anyway to show gratitude towards my creator for making me. The next morning Paolozzi found the statue. Just as I was taken away. So he got all the glory and the money when I actually did all the work. So unfair. But then what would I have done with the money anyway?
The next thing I knew I was bundled into a large white lorry and into darkness. The ride was long, bumpy and terrifying. Where was I going next? What was going on? I couldn’t move. The men had tied me to a massive board of wood with strong metal cord. I lay down the whole journey. After what seemed like forever, I at last arrived here, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art Two (that’s a bit of a mouthful, isn’t it?), one of the only homes I’ve ever had.
Now, after my period of reflection, I asked myself the question again. Am I art? Yes. And it didn’t seem so freaky anymore because now I know that anything could be art.
Category: Adults Prose
Winner: Bed by Dan Spencer from Glasgow
Inspired by: Two Men by Lucian Freud
I WAKE when Paul pulls off the sheet, saying, “Up you get.” He’s standing in his underwear. It isn’t usual for me that I’ve slept naked. To teach him a lesson for waking me, I roll onto my back and he says, “No, I’m blind!” staggering out onto the landing. I blink a little. The emulsion smells cool and still. The sash windows (newly glossed) are open and the town is quiet. I watch Paul’s legs walking off.
The bed is about the last thing in the house, because, as I told Paul, we were always going to need somewhere to sleep. I knew not to paint myself into a corner. It’s been the whole summer. Paul arrived the day after he broke up at the school. I was here before that because I’m between things at the moment. We can’t agree if we’re going to sell or rent. It started as a spring-clean but then all of a sudden we’d cleared everything out. Paul uses the word “unfurnished” and I realise it was his decision. When we repainted, I drove to buy supplies as if it was my idea. It wasn’t. Next we were pulling up the carpets. “Minimalist,” Paul said. But I still don’t know his plans. Some days he talks about “letting agents” other days “auction”.
Valuables, we move into storage. We’ve made lots of trips to the tip, or to the charity shops in town, but some of it we save for resale. Occasionally, Paul and I need to discuss who should have some or other “item of personal value”. But if I’m on my own and I find something I want, I pocket it. There are large, important things – the cherry wardrobe, the china dinner set – but unlike these, the brass bedstead has not, we believe, retained its value.
It’s a rickety old thing. A leg is bent and one of the bed knobs is loose. Paul and I were always fighting in here because it’s the largest room in the house. Mostly it was for play but that fight, when Paul collided with the bedstead, that had been about a girl.
We mean to begin with the bed but then don’t get to it until the afternoon. It’s a big house and you become caught up in things. You get side-tracked by other small tasks which then turn into big tasks. You intend to paint a wall but first you want to remove the wallpaper or fill in every hole that you can find (and you can always find more holes). Other problems present themselves, with the plaster or the wiring or the foundations or whatever it is. Some days we don’t see each other until the evening. We’ve spent the summer this way, working through the rooms unsystematically but steadily, and separately for the most part.
It’s messy, physical work. Every day, I wear a rugby shirt of my father’s, tucked unstylishly into an oversized pair of Dad’s trousers, belted with his belt. I have the old clothes on for obvious reasons.
Early afternoon, Beth telephones to ask how we’re getting on. I don’t think she expected this to take so long. I tell her that Paul is probably somewhere and should I get him? She says no and to say she says hi. I’m positive today. Today maybe we’ll finish. I explain to Beth about Paul’s plan for the bed. “Why carry it down to the front door?” he says. He says we can post the parts through the bedroom window and drop them from there onto the driveway below. Beth says it’s typical of Paul to overthink.
Up in the bedroom, Paul has heaved the king mattress onto its side and leant it against a wall. The toolbox is out on the floorboards and Paul’s looking at the bedframe, weighing in his hands a screwdriver and a spanner. He has lighter hair than mine. A narrow waist. A slim frame. Naturally it reminds me of my mother.
“For a couple of years I slept here a lot,” he says. “I’d wake up at three or four in the morning and start worrying. I don’t know about what. What do children worry about? Something happening to their parents, I expect. I couldn’t sleep so I’d come to their room and get in at the bottom of the bed then manoeuvre up between them. Did you do that too? It’s funny that we never met each other in here.”
I don’t think of Mum and Dad in the bed. They’re older, when I think of them. We’re teenagers and they’re out late. They have friends. They have lives. But their bedroom door is closed and I’m on the landing. Paul and Beth are inside. The bed doesn’t make a sound. This is before it got damaged. I can hear panting but I don’t know whether it’s Beth or Paul.
It disassembles straightforwardly, in the end. The slats go out the window easily, as do three long rails which seesaw on the sill before swinging downward. Then Paul takes a hammer to the head rail. It doesn’t need doing. However mangled it becomes it’s never going to fit the window. I’m at a loose end so I stand and watch him turning it into a piece of car wreckage. Paul’s tired. It’s been the whole summer, as I say. But he keeps hammering. Steady. Unsystematic. When he gives up he looks completely alone but how can I help him?
‘I think we should hold onto the house for now,’ he says.
‘It makes sense,’ I say. ‘In this climate.’
As I carry the head rail down to the car, Paul lets the mattress thud on the floor. I collect the slats in the driveway. You can hear Paul showering. The bathroom windows are open. Open too is the door, and so are all the other windows of the house. I put everything into the car. The head rail is a giant, brass ribcage.
When I get back from the tip, I find Paul asleep in the bedroom. He’s lying naked on the mattress, on his front, sleeping like he fell that way. I’m suddenly very tired too and as I lower my body beside his I’m already dreaming – my shoulder snug against Paul’s hip – my head falling away – a hand resting on my chest – a hand, at rest, on his leg.
ALL THE WINNERS
UNDER 12 YEARS
Runners-up: Isabella Boyd, Nathan Ezra-Jackson
Special Merit: Owen Norman, Annabelle Sherry, Finn Mitchell, Isabella Boyd, Will Leckie, Katrina Gillies, Emma Kohlhagen
Winner: Emma Wright
Runners-up: Eleanor Young, Stephi Stacey
Special merit: Corrie Lawson, Rosie Young, Victoria Toellner, Rachel Tsang, Christopher Adam, Corinne Pope, Flora Smith
Winner: Joe Steel
Runners-up: Eve McLachlan, Eilidh MacKinnon
Special merit: Alex Hardie, Ailsa Purdie, Cara Pacitti, Hannah Tiffney, Issy Arnaud, Abaan Nawab Zaidi, Eoghan McFadden
Winner: Dan Spencer
Runners-up: Olga Wojtas, Darci Bysouth
Special merit: Regina Barry, Sarah Gillam, Andrew Campbell-Kearsey, Ann MacKinnon, Darci Bysouth, Juliet Lovering, Jock Morrison
Winner: Jane Bonnyman
Runners-up: Simon Weller, Ian McDonough
Special merit: Mark O. Goodwin, Lynda McDonald, Iain Matheson, Marjorie Lotfi Gill, J. A. Sutherland, Rachel Woolf (two awards)