Inspired? – Get Writing! Competition: The winners

La Femme qui pleure I by Pablo Picasso. Picture: National Galleries of Scotland
La Femme qui pleure I by Pablo Picasso. Picture: National Galleries of Scotland
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Today and tomorrow The Scotsman is publishing 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.

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 work in the collections of the National Galleries of Scotland. This year, the competition is the most international to date, with entries from schools in Hong Kong and Barcelona as well as all over the UK, and from adults in Canada, Kuwait, Spain and Nepal, and, as you will see from the work featured here, it continues to provoke original, imaginative writing.

• The winners, runners-up and highly commended entries will be read aloud and prizes presented at the National Gallery of Scotland tomorrow, 10.30-11.30am: Under 12s; 1.30-3pm: 12-18s; 5.30-7pm: Adults. The winners and runners-up from the last two years will be published in a book available from the National Galleries of Scotland in the autumn. For futher information, go to


Category: 15-18 years

Winner: One for Sorrow by Joe Steel, from Westhill Academy, Aberdeenshire

Inspired by: La femme qui pleure (Weeping Woman) by Pablo Picasso

HER hands are cold. Entwined with mine, they seem old. Older. The back spidered with blue, palms lined with folds. Comforted by the rhythm of her breathing, I lean back against the soft silk. The raindrops hammer against glass, the hubbub of night-time traffic is a far away sound. Orange streetlight spills into the room from a gap in the curtains. I watch it shimmer on the carpet, as droplets dance down the pane, endlessly merging and separating; glass pearls, beautiful, fragile. She murmurs in her sleep. Escape. She seeks escape. With the base of my thumb, I stroke her hand. I bring across my other, holding her fingers tightly, squeezing, to let her know I’m here. Silently I pull it closer, towards my chin, nesting it there. A pulse beats, the rain drums. I move my hand upwards, placing her knuckles against my lips. A kiss. Returning her arm to its original position, I look down at her, turning my head. Her face, full of impish glee and untainted purity once upon a time, now veiled by age. Wrinkles, like scars across her face; a mouth which droops at the corners; a brow furrowed by time. Grey hair, now thinning, frames her face with sliver curls. A crown of glory. I survey our kingdom. Quaint. Two smiling faces gaze back at me. Framed, blessed. I look to the dresser. Two sets of false teeth. Two pairs of glasses. Two pairs of shoes. Smiling, I breathe out, sighing.

In the kitchen, I’m alone with my thoughts. Silently, I rinse and dry one of the crystal tumblers, replacing it in its home cupboard. Returning to my starting position before the sink, I look out the window: watching, contemplating. In the semi-darkness, colour slowly seeping from the horizon, the glass changes: a moment of reflection, a moment of clarity. The boiler hums, the radiator whines. Through my darkened silhouette, the garden is peaceful. From over the fence, a lone blackbird floats down on to the grass. Precise in his movements, he hops around the garden, searching for worms, to and fro. I look up. The clouds are leaving. Behind them, countless diamonds shimmer on their dark background. High above, the moon is suspended. Hung by an invisible tether. The crowning jewel. Hauntingly beautiful. A single note steals me from my imaginings. Back in the garden, my little friend has been joined by a female counterpart. Looking at each other inquisitively, they appear to be conversing. Catching up. Exchanging stories. One ebony, one mahogany. Leaping across the garden, they twist and waltz, dancing. Dancing. I watch them, transfixed. Without warning, the dance ends. The music stops. Their tones are harsher, more shrill. And then they are gone. I breathe out, puzzled by their sudden exit. I notice something out the corner of my eye. With a flourish of inky feathers, a solitary magpie now stands in the centre of the garden. Sinister and threatening. It cocks its head. Out of its long, sharp beak, an unwelcome noise tolls. One for sorrow. Instinctively, I feel tense. As I’m tying my dressing gown tighter, I hear noise from the bedroom. A shout. A call for help. Against the protests from my knee, I rush through. I stop in the doorway. Looking at the bed, all I see is a mess of sheets. A single hand appears on the opposite side of the covers. I tear round. She’s there: crumpled and confused. Trying to get up; a look of frustration flashes across her face. Unable to watch her struggle, I bend down, taking hold of her arm. Sensing discomfort, I only get her as far as a sitting position. Together, we sit against the bed, my arm around her shoulders. A sign of safety. A sign of protection. I listen to her talk. About her dream. Her nightmare. I grasp her hand. With my other, I brush the matted hair from her face. Looking up, I notice her pills on the bedside table. A glass of water. Discarded Alzheimer’s medication. Prescribed, but discarded. I respected her decision. Brushing away the tablets, I take one of the books from the table. Rossetti’s poems. I open it at the page bookmarked. We must not look at goblin men. She nestles her head on my shoulder. We must not buy their fruit. Who knows upon what soil they fed their hungry, thirsty roots.

A cold mist clings stubbornly to the dewy ground. The grass glitters in the morning air. The sky before me is splashed with colour. A fiery orange radiates from the skyline, changing to pinks and indigos. The ominous silhouettes of rectangular obelisks project upwards, threatening in their brutality. Nearby, the woods mirror the demeanour of the tower blocks: ominous, threatening. I listen to the welcome silence of the morning, only interrupted by the gentle calls of the birds. The rhythm of my steps echo around the street. Arm pressed tightly to my side, morning newspaper protected, I fish for my keys in my jacket pocket. Hearing the click of the lock, I cross the threshold. The sound of radio static meets my ears. Curious, I wander down the hall. From through the kitchen door, the linoleum glistens. The floor is soaking. Overflowing, the sink sits smugly in the middle of the worktop. I tiptoe across the water. Arm deep, I remove the plug and turn off the taps. Drying my hands, I end the incessant crackling. Through the open back door, I hear sounds of a struggle. Still in her nightie, now blackened by soil, she digs through the bare flowerbed, searching. Searching. Her engagement ring. Her hands coated in earth. Remember. I remember. Lost and found several years ago, probably now sitting on her bedside table, the scene before me has become common in the last few months. Loss. Nightmares. Forgetting. I loathed seeing her distressed. Vulnerable. I lead her inside. Help her get cleaned up. Trembling. Shaking.

Inside, she looks tired. Eyes, coloured by lack of sleep. Eyelids heavy. My heart aches. She asks for him. Our son. She looks around: anxious, waiting. Fighting back tears, I tell her that he no longer lives with us. Confused. She leaves the room. Alone, I sip my tea, watching the steam rise higher and higher. Delicately. Higher and higher. Standing at the sink, mug washed, I look out of the window. A moment of reflection. A moment of clarity. The magpie has returned. Menacing. Solitary. I turn away.

The bedside clock ticks calmly. She is sitting on the bed, asleep. Her eyes are swollen. Red. She’s been crying. I lean across, pressing my lips against her forehead. Lingering. Remember. Her hands are cold.


Category: 12-14 years

Winner: Our Jar Full of Fireflies’ by Emma Wright, Royal High School, Edinburgh

Inspired by: Work No 975 Everything is going to be alright by Martin Creed

If we walked to an airport – together, not apart

and climbed into one of the jumbo jets

(the ones with the bright lights

that blink so safely in the dark)

and let the pilot pull us into the cosmopolitan oblivion -

(the soft part of the clouds, in between the sun and the stars)

we’d climb out, and let the plane dip us down

so we reach the pillows the clouds lace out for us

and we’d be able to watch the city lights illuminate our toes –

like tiny fireflies patterned against the jumbo jet

shining when we need to understand

that everything is going to be alright

together, always together, we would watch the city lights fade

just out of reach from our fingertips –

just out of reach for us to bottle up and keep

safe inside our jumbo jet, our jar full of fireflies

and we’d stay outside on the clouds for a while,

pretending to catch the slowly fading lights in the gaps of our fingers

until the city lights went damp and dull beneath our feet

and we could no longer see the clouds we sit on

or each other’s faces

but then we’d see the flickering lights reappear below us,

lighting up a message you could only see from the clouds

and the lights would let us know again

that everything will be alright.


Category: Adults Poetry

Winner: Oban by Jane Bonnyman from Edinburgh

Inspired by: Oban by Sir James Guthrie

In come the fishing boats,

holding memory like the day’s catch-

the silver flickers of life slowed by air.

The first to reach the harbour

beneath you now, as you stand,

one elbow resting on the railing;

into its blue shadow you stare

and see Ganavan, the evening

when the sun chose this curve of bay

to turn golden, make Mediterranean.

You bend to collect mussel shells

to take home, spread on the kitchen table.

Mother says you might find a pearl,

but you don’t believe her

until the moment a tiny stone

rolls between your finger and thumb.

You thought it was forgotten,

how you pressed it in her palm

and how she smiled then –

That’s one. That’s one.