CoastWord’s Writing Mums: Keeping Mum

CoastWord Writing Mums reading
Category: Writing

Five years ago from behind my double buggy, I rushed out a programme entry for an event for Dunbar’s Civic Week. ‘Keeping Mum’ a Writing Mums’ Workshop. I arranged a crèche and roped in my good friend, the poet Alice Mitchell, to help me run the workshop. A few weeks later in a room in Dunbar Library we waited, with pens and paper, writing exercises and cake, lots of cake.

Nine women came along. We laughed, we wrote, we shared and we ate cake, talked kids, life, exhaustion, expectations, secrets, the little things, the big things, the things they never tell us, the things we never say. It was the start of something really special.

Looking back it was by far the sanest thing I have ever done

The desire to write, to snatch a little time out, to escape for a moment from nappies and all that of being a mum compelled me to this madness - start a group, find funding for a group, find a venue for a group, find tutors, facilitate my own workshops - when I had not enough time to drink a cup of tea (still hot) or brush my hair or... But looking back it was by far the sanest thing I have ever done.

The last five years has seen the group grow to a great big room-filling fourteen women. Our voices, our words, our stories and our friendships, first shaky and fragile, are now strong and sure. This group has been a gift. Life changing and life enhancing. Helped me in its bonds and opportunities to be more than I ever thought I was, pushed me beyond comfort zones and self imposed limitations, pushed me out from behind my double buggy and the endless to do, to do and yet more to do.

The group has given me strength and I turn again and again to our monthly meetings to inspire me and keep me brave. It is my refuge and my jumping off point and I am so grateful to these women for their wisdom and their trust in me and the crazy plans I have had and still have for us. Let’s do a Fringe show! Let’s collaborate with the choir! Let’s do Spoken Word! Let’s bring our ironing on stage! Their answer always, nearly always, yes! Let’s do it! And they have plans of their own, let’s go on a retreat, let’s make a book - we are ambitious for each other and for ourselves.

We stood there full of pride in each other and ourselves

This year has been a very important one to us. We were lucky enough to get funding from Creative Scotland to fund a three month residency with Janice Galloway to help us edit and refine our work for our first proper anthology. We also went on a weekend retreat with the amazing Catherine Simpson, made a film of our work with Roxana Vilk and at CoastWord 2017 and launched our anthology accompanied by Dunbar Sings and Karen Dietz. It was a great moment. A top of the mountain moment. We stood there full of pride in each other and ourselves and shed tears at the path we have taken together.

To sum up the last five years of laughter, tears and friendship is not easy and I wish I could take you all to each of those moments, to all those moments, of finding our voices, speaking out, telling our stories, hearing each other, all those sharings, to all those breakthroughs and triumphs. All those moments of silence, of free flowing brave tears, and the nod from across the table that says, “You are not alone”, “me too”.

What I can do is offer you our anthology, Nourish me, Sister, and our accompanying film and ask you to coorie in and hear us tell you our stories. It is important this. This sharing. These stories. This keeping mum.


Mid-life Crisis

Melissa Goodbourn


Sheets smell of grass, salty 
like seaweed but no comfort eases
my busy mind. I tip-toe
down plush-carpet steps,
like a child sneaking a view
of presents beneath the tree.
A child inside, now with children
of my own; wondering
are there no good surprises left in life?
Kettle boils and steady drops
slide down window panes like slugs, arresting
the night silence while I consider 
our plan B. I do not worry
about Christmas: if we make it that far
it will seem like Christmas already. 
Sky streaks shades
of neon-tangerine until weary bodies 
take their cue: just stand up
get on the train, busy to work
do another day. At least
it has stopped raining. 
Best case scenario?
Time-limited mid-life crisis.
Worst? Unemployment,
the feeling of nothing. 
Add pennies and pounds
to our Crown Royal bag
while we can, I say
though savings won't wait
for a rainy day. We’re two months
behind on the mortgage
and I'm all out of bright ideas.
Tell me in twenty years’ time,
can we sit down?
Shade our eyes
from yellow-filtered sun
long enough to enjoy
greenery and bloom, perch a cuppa 
on that teak-table we always wanted to buy
and say Do you remember when…?

Watch our film and find more about our anthology at Coastword Writing Mums or catch them performing at the Callander Poetry Weekend.

Thanks to Creative Scotland, Scottish Book Trust, North Light Arts, CoastWord and East Lothian Libraries

Hannah Lavery

Hannah Lavery is a writer and performer from Edinburgh, who has made her home in Dunbar. Hannah runs CoastWord Festival in Dunbar and was Scottish Book Trust Reader In Residence for East Lothian in 2015. She is also the founding member of the writing collective, The Writing Mums. Her recent pamphlet and accompanying show, The Drift, weaves a story about her personal bereavement following the death of her father, but with a universal story about family, love, loss and identity.