Aurora Writers’ Creative Projects
We know how hard it can be to get your work into print or published online, as well as how frustrating it is to put so much heart and soul into a writing endeavour and be unable to share it.
As a participant on one of our creative writing retreats we invite you to share your creative work – stories, poems, memoir, fiction and non-fiction, even pictures – that you have produced on one of our courses, or as a result of being inspired by our seasonal gatherings. We won’t change anything about your writing (so do check it yourself for any grammatical or spelling errors!) and will post a new story, poem or picture, on our website every couple of weeks. The story always belongs to you, and we have absolutely no rights over it whatsoever. You can send us an image to go with the story or we can pick a picture ourselves to illustrate your story if you prefer.
If you would like to share your writing with Aurora Writers please email your writing to Noelle on: firstname.lastname@example.org
You have corrected any spelling or grammatical errors yourself.
Your piece has a title if possible.
Your name and which retreat you took part in is on the piece.
Maximum word count is 4000 words.
BY Noelle Harrison & Becky Sweeney
Performed to sell out houses at Cymera Festival June 2019 & Audacious Women’s Festival February 2020
‘Emotionally gripping and beautifully performed, Witches’ Gets, grabbed its audience with both hands and refused to let go until the lights went up.‘
Dawn Geddes, The Scotsman ( https://bit.ly/2l5vjy7)
‘Witches’ Gets is based on the true story of Norwegian witch trials on the arctic island of Vardø over three hundred years ago. I was very interested to learn whether such a dark and harrowing tale could be successfully distilled into a 70-minute piece of theatre, and I was not disappointed. The expectant hush from the audience as we took our seats before the minimalist, candlelit set was palpable, and from the opening lines, the all-female cast swept us up in a maelstrom of claim and counter-claim, recrimination, bitterness and grief.
The brutality of what happened to those young women in what became known as The Witch Panic of 1662 was laid before us in forensic detail; the accusations, the politics, the grudges, all steeped in a climate of superstition and fear.The performances were bold and powerful, sometimes whimsical and always poignant. Written by Noelle Harrison, the script was raw, unflinching but strangely poetic, as charms and incantations swept through the space. This play, blending as it does spoken word, film projection, music, and movement, is based on Harrison’s novel Where the Ice Burns. The projected segments, which portray a young Scottish woman researching the trials and questioning her own identity and heritage bring the piece bang up to date, a timely reminder that in a world ruled by men, female power is still considered a dark force to be reckoned with.
A haunting, relevant piece of theatre, which kept me on the edge of my seat and thinking about it long after it ended. We all have traits which may once have singled us out as witches. The plays hashtag #onceawitch continues a conversation begun 300 years ago and still totally relevant today.‘
Sandra Ireland, author of Beneath the Skin, Bone Deep and The Unmaking of Ellie Rook
‘Witches Gets is a thoroughly immersive experience, where you are taken back to the frightening hysteria of 1600s Norwegian witch hunts, as brought to life by a girl in current day Scotland who is facing her own battles. If she’d lived hundreds of years ago, would she have been branded a witch too? Through letters of the time, she becomes haunted by the girls who came before her, while the audience is similarly haunted by the spectacle before them. The passion of the cast acting out their roles so expertly and in such close proximity to the audience enhances the viewing experience, ensuring that it remains something that sticks with the viewer long after the last word has been spoken. Noelle Harrison has created a visual work of art that I would definitely recommend.
Elizabeth Frattaroli, author
‘Written by @noelle.harrison5 and directed by @alyssaowrites, Witches’ Gets is a spellbinding multimedia performance….I was lucky enough to have a seat for opening night and was enthralled from start to finish, immersed in the dark story burning white hot from the shadows of the past.‘
4th March 2018
Today I want to share a beautiful picture created by Dawn Chapman in response to the day she spent with us on our Imbolc Retreat in Edinburgh on 1st February. The image is called Sunshine on a rainy day, and Dawn gave both myself and Vanessa a wee print of it each. Thank You Dawn! I absolutely love it.
1st March 2018
We are pleased to present an excerpt from Claire Wingfield‘s forthcoming novel SAVING FRANCESCA MAIER written while on our Into The Light Imbolc Yoga & Writing Retreat on 3rd February. Claire runs an excellent Editorial and Literary Consultancy and is the author of the fabulous writing handbook 52 Dates for Writers. We recommend signing up for her mailing list for updates on her workshops, and fantastic podcast interviews with other writers.
EXCERPT FROM SAVING FRANCESCA MAIER BY CLAIRE WINGFIELD (INTO THE LIGHT AURORA WRITERS RETREAT 03.02.18)
Antonio doesn’t know where he’s going when he sets off in an ungainly jog towards the U-bahn, but once he’s there that compass he has for finding someone in need does not fail him.
And so, a short while later, he bounds up the small hill camouflaging the old bunker and hammers on the hatch to announce his arrival.
Inside, Francesca is huddled in a child’s pose. He sits beside her on the cold concrete.
‘I knew you’d come,’ she smiles. ‘Eventually.’
‘Nowhere else to be,’ he says with a shrug, though his exam has already started; his empty desk to be expected, perhaps.
‘What if it’s me, Antonio? What if it’s me making a mess of everything? What if just by living I make everything worse? All my parents have wanted to do my whole life is to protect me – but what if it’s me the world needs protecting from? And I can’t go back. I can’t. I can’t go back to who I was before I came here.’
She’s breathless now, and when she stands there’s a strange power in her pose. The stance of a warrior.
‘I can’t get on that plane. I won’t.’
Antonio sits and thinks, and when she asks what he knows she will eventually, ‘what shall I do, Antonio?’ he holds his hands out, offering nothing.
‘You have to decide who you want to be, Francesca. You must decide.’
18th February 2018
We are delighted to share two pieces of writing by Lynne Dickson when she took part on Into The Light Yoga & Creative Writing Retreat on 3rd February 2018.
Lynne has also recently published The Confirmation her debut novel. The Confirmation revolves round a young Scottish lawyer and her friends. Will Annie’s meeting with her friends new neighbour lead to happiness? As the story unfolds over 15 years, only time will tell. http://www.troubador.co.uk/book_info.asp?bookid=4702
LILAC BY L G DICKSON ( INTO THE LIGHT AURORA WRITERS RETREAT 03.02.18)
Gentle and boisterous, all bound up together. Calming and nurturing. Enveloping us in softness like powder. Talcum powder with heady scents.
Nana. Loving, enveloping us in her scent. Strength and softness together.
The world is brighter with lilac in it. A warm, safe place with lilac in it.
Floating scarves, silk scarves, lava lamps and plastic lilac hydrangeas covered in snow. Ballet dancers in lilac tutus, stuck on white wardrobes. Sindy wardrobes.
Lilac is for old women with stories to tell. Women who’ve clawed and scraped. Women emerging from drunken brawls and a life with no money. Women who’ve earned the right to have fancy clothes, fancy dressing tables and fancy perfume bottles with big bold stoppers tied with lilac ribbons.
Parma violets and love hearts. Suckie sweeties. Taking her teeth out and sucking in her gums to make us laugh.
Lilac curlers, lilac florals, lilac scent.
A BIT OF A RIDE BY L G DICKSON (INTO THE LIGHT AURORA WRITERS RETREAT 03.02.18)
Is no one going to say anything? Really? Everyone is on deck now holding on to anything that might keep them from slipping, falling.
John looks comfortable. No hint of fear in his eyes. Not even a look of concern. He speaks with such confidence, such absolute certainty about the adventure ahead of us. So, I guess if John’s comfortable, we’re good to go. Oh my, he’s actually said the words and we are “good to go.”
But still – the winds are whipping up. Really whipping up.
‘Jenny, you okay?’ I ask the question. John, her husband, isn’t going to.
‘Yes, I think so.’
Jenny doesn’t look okay. She’s fidgeting, pulling at the toggles on her yellow sailing jacket. John doesn’t see her. John doesn’t see anything but sailing charts and tidal data.
‘You, are you okay?’ I can hardly hear Jenny’s voice above the lashing rain hitting off the wooden decking.
‘Yes,’ I lie. ‘John’s happy to go.’I’ve put all my faith in John. He’s a competent sailor, nothing more, but I’ve placed all of my confidence in this man. Why rely on one man to make this decision? His authoritative voice and strong physical presence have won the day. But if it’s unsafe to sail, it’s unsafe. Nothing about John’s physique or tone changes the facts. But then just because I feel unsafe doesn’t mean anything. I haven’t got all the data, all the facts in front of me. John has.
I’m not sure what happened next. The journey itself has blurred and become indistinguishable from the noise, the harsh biting winds and the cold dark rain. We are sailing. We have actually set sail. We’ve broken free from the safety of our mooring and headed north across the treacherous stretch of water that is somehow expected to propel us towards safety. The harbour and safety. Why leave one place of safety only to hurtle towards another?
I lose my footing more than once. The whole yacht is being buffeted by the storm force winds and waves are lashing the deck. Suddenly we keel. Is this it? Am I going to die because I can’t find my voice? Because I haven’t the gumption to say my piece? Because John knows best, John always knows best.
I cling on for dear life until someone, somehow ties us to the trawler buoy in the harbour. We’re buffeted and lashed, tossed from side to side until morning.
The sun has come up now and the winds have quelled. They’ve had their fun and are off in search of some other poor sods to torture.
‘Everyone okay? Bloody hell, that was a bit of a ride, wasn’t it?’ John stands on the deck, hands on hips and grinning.
I wipe the salt, the sea from my face. ‘Certainly was John. Certainly was a bit of a ride.’
5th February 2018
To get us started I am sharing my story Vardø’s Daughters which was published in Issue 17 of Gutter Magazine of New Scottish Writing. The opening lines of verse were written while I took part on a writing course with Aurora Writers’ Melody Nixon in Bergen back in 2015.
Vardø is a small island in Finnmark in the extreme north-eastern part of Norway. During the seventeenth century, this Norwegian island, along with parts of Scotland, and Germany, was the centre of the some of the most intense and brutal witchcraft trials in the whole of Europe. Nearly 100 persons, Norwegian, and Sami, most of them women, were convicted and burnt at the stake. In 1662, six girls, between the ages of six and thirteen, were accused of being in league with the Devil. One of them was Maren Olufsdatter, daughter of a notorious witch.
begins to flatten
lies the way
There are no trees on Vardø. The island is as barren as a mountain summit, as sheer as the frozen fjord. Yet my dreams of Vardø are full of forests. I run through birch trees, sliding down mossy banks, pulling on roots as I clamber up the other side. I chase the spears of midnight sun that pierce the dark foliage. The undergrowth rustles and crackles beneath my bare feet. I spy an arctic fox in its summer brown running alongside me. I pick up my skirts; laugh as I run. My heart is light for I know he is here, deep inside the wood. I have been hunting for him ever since I was a girl. Joy swells within me at the promise of his love. I am as certain as my very own living breath that he is there in the darksome forest, waiting for me, his molten eyes seeking me.
Out of the murky forest one day we will slide into the glowing dawn of a northern spring, skiing across the snow-laden fjord beneath a sky touched graceful by pink. He will take me by the hand and he will spin me. We will dance so wild that not a soul can break us.
The Dark Lord has been shadowing Maren her whole life. On the island of Vardø, he lurks between the clusters of turf cottages, emerging in the hostile stares of her neighbours. He is lapping against the sides of the fishing boats, hissing from the lips of the fishermen as they stare her down. None forgives her, and none forgets.
The Devil is a trickster, but Maren does not fear him. She never has. This very day she feels His presence as the wind builds, and a storm begins to blow upon the island. She does not dread the wild gales of the North as others do. When the wind cries out, she can hear those witches calling, returning from the nether regions. As the storm begins to build, the power of it courses through her body. She imagines herself facing all the people of the island of Vardø, her black hair streaming behind her, her stance as solid as a warrior’s. She would speak the whole truth. That it was their very repentance that damned the women of Vardø.
Some nights Maren wakes to find herself back in the big trial chamber in front of Governor Orning, Deputy Bailiff Lockhert, and the Vardø jury of important men. She is but girl of twelve, and yet every single man is held rapt by her. Two rows of the most important bodies, and as many of the populace of Vardø that can squeeze into the chamber are breathless, waiting for her words. It is so quiet that they can hear the snow falling upon snow outside, stacking up all around them in white oblivion. These judging men are beacons of light, gleaming in front of Maren, all so clean, and neat in their white shirts, black justacorps and hats. Some of the older ones wear ruffs; others wear starched neckbands, and most have beards as pointed as spearheads. They are echelons of all that is proper and holy. They are order, their power derived directly from that of the King and from the King straight to God. They are The Good.
Mistress Anna Rhodius is beside her, holding her hand. She laces her fingers within hers. She can smell her refined scent, an impossible aroma of wild roses.
‘Tell them Maren,’ she whispers into her ear. ‘Tell them everything you told me.’
She licks her lips, preparing to speak. There is the taste of lemons upon them.
Upon other nights, Maren might fall from her marriage bed onto the cold cracked floor. It is the Day of Judgement. Bailiff Sørensen Fiil stands to attention in Merchant Bras’ house before the jury of Vadsø and he declares that these evil girls should burn. Maren is the worst one of all. She is named the ringleader. The girl with no hope for her soul.
The wooden floor splits wide, mud bubbles forth, and her legs are sticking as if in thick boggy mire. She must speak or else she will sink to her doom. Only the truth can save her. Eyes fixed upon her sleeping husband, she clasps her hands as if in prayer. She opens her mouth, yet what emerge are black words, and dark deeds. It is her essence to be bad.
One time Joseph woke and asked her what she was whispering, but she did not tell him the truth.
‘Prayers,’ she lied.
‘We have already said them,’ her husband murmured, before drifting back to sleep.
Anna Rhodius may still be a King’s prisoner but Maren was once her captive. She had been entranced by her, for Mistress Rhodius knew everything about science, and healing. The Danish lady had read so many books written by the most learned men in the whole of Europe. Mistress Anna’s God was a crusader against chaos, but she also knew about the Devil and his upside down world. The power He could give to the powerless. This is what drew Maren to her.
In 1652, when Maren was two years old, her mother was accused of causing a huge storm that wrecked a ship belonging to the Bergen merchant Jon Jonsen. Maren’s mother and nine other witches had held the wind in a bag, and undid the knot so that it spilled forth again. It was said that her mother had great power to create whirlpools within the sea. All knew this because she was an outsider in Vardø, raised on the western island of Rødøy, so close to the legendary mælstrom of Røst.
Maren’s mother had created a wave the height of a mountain. She had been inside that wave, conducting the ruinous power of the sea, forcing Jon Jonson’s ship down. She was burnt at the stake for her crime.
Everyone believed that Maren followed in her mother’s footsteps. When she, and the other girls on trial, Ingeborg and her sister Karen, Sibylle and Kirsten, were sent down from Vardø fortress to collect seaweed for the cows, Maren would sometime sight her mother inside a big wave of water far out to sea. Tossed and turned by the violence of nature.
‘Do you see my mother?’ she would ask little Karen, pointing at the sea. ‘She is there, inside a big wave, do you see her?’
Karen shook her head.
‘All I can see are the stakes on Stegelsnes,’ she whispered, clutching at Maren’s skirts, her eyes filled with tears.
‘Do not look to that place,’ Maren said, pulling the little girl closer.
‘But will they burn us Maren, will they?’
Maren had been as fearful of a fiery end as the other girls, but she did not show it. Deep down she had been proud of her mother’s power. Maybe she too could harness nature, not to destroy but to save them?
‘Do not be afraid Karen,’ she said to the small girl. ‘If they try to put us to the fire, we shall turn to birds, and fly away.’
Even so, by that time, she had not felt the full conviction of her words. Anna Rhodius had made her doubt. She chained the girls to the yoke of repentance. Maren had wished so much to be free again, to roam the fields of her home village of Vadsø with the Dark Lord at her side, and her mother’s fearsome destiny leading the way.
The past nine years have not been easy. Not even Karen speaks to her any more for she is afraid to be seen with her. Maren knows that the women of Vardø are still watching her, waiting for another chance to bring her down. How it is that in a place where she is loathed, she has found love. The devotion of her husband, Joseph Abrahamson. A man who refuses to damn her.
When she was a girl, she would challenge the Devil to come for her. If folk thought her bad than she would not disappoint them. It nearly got her burnt. She remembers Ingeborg counselling her to stay silent, and yet she could not. She would have her vengeance on all those women who had kicked her and called her witch’s child since before she could remember. Sølve Nilsdatter, Widow Krog, Guri from Ekkerøy, Kari, Willardtz’s wife, and Barbra Olsdatter. All of them together spitting out insults at her. Had Anna Rhodius read this dark intent inside of her and used it to her own ends?
Now for the first time, an agonising fear has entered Maren’s life. It has consumed her since the day she bore her child. A girl, Synnøve, three years of age, with Maren’s dark hair, and Joseph’s blue eyes. The idea that her daughter might be treated as she was, branded the daughter of a witch, called a witch herself, sears Maren with anguish. Worse than any pain she has ever felt. She would gladly take a hundred lashes for her daughter’s good name and reputation.
It has been impossible to forget the dark portent of Governor Orning’s last words to her before he left Vardø. Three years after the trials, and the last night she served him.
‘You can never be returned to God, Maren Olufsdatter,’ he said, his finger trailing from the tip of her chin, down her neck to finger the edge of her collar. ‘The Devil will never give you up. He will keep you and all your daughters in his grasp for all eternity.’
The old bastard gave her a look of triumph, as he forced her upon her knees. ‘You are a creature born to tempt men to break their vows.’
She had wanted to curse Governor Orning and hurt him just as he hurt her. Yet she did not. For it was the Governor’s protection that saved her from the workhouse, worse yet the stake. Furthermore, it was Governor Orning who had stopped the whipping that time. Hauled Anna Rhodius’ maid Helwig away, the birch branch still in her hand, as all the Governor’s men looked upon Maren in condemnation.
‘Whore,’ they hissed behind her back. ‘Witch.’
Maren had let Governor Orning do as he wished to her, for he allowed her Joseph. And now the old Governor is long gone from Vardø, the memories of his touch fades, and she has her husband and her girl as rewards.
Maren knows the Evil One is close by when Joseph gives her news from the fortress.
‘Anna Rhodius is dying,’ he tells her, his eyes shining with relief.
Her husband thinks that the threat against her will soon end. But Maren knows that these hours, these moments, until the last breath is grasped from Mistress’ Rhodius body are the most dangerous for her, and their child.
‘They found her wandering in the snow, half demented, half froze, still wearing her mules,’ he says as he takes off his wolf skins. ‘It will be the end of her Maren.’
‘Where is she now?’
‘Why back in her prison longhouse, attended by her maid Helwig. The Reverend looked to her earlier. He said she will not last the night.’
‘Does she speak?’
Her husband does not reply. He shuffles over to the cooking fire, warms his hands.
‘Joseph, what does she say?’
‘She raves, Maren, says that witches have cursed her.’
She feels the blood drain from her, her mouth dry and empty.
‘The Reverend does not think it so,’ Joseph reassures her. ‘It is clear that she is bitter, long due for death.’
‘Does she name the witches?’ she whispers to her husband.
‘Do not shake so wife,’ Joseph takes her in his arms. ‘Anna Rhodius is harmless. She can wreck no more damage in Vardø.’
His words do not comfort her. Maren presses her lips to her husband’s bare skin at the base of his neck. She tastes the salt upon him. She knows he does not like her to be so forward but she cannot help it. She wants to feel him inside her. Her family is only safe when she is part of Joseph.
‘I would wish to give you a son,’ she whispers to him, as she kisses his neck.
Joseph glances to where their little girl sleeps. He blows out the candle, so that the only light in their tiny cottage is from the cooking fire, and leads her by the hand to their bed of birch branches and reindeer skins. She lies down for him, and he lifts her skirt. She has an urge to pull his garments off. She wants to feel his nakedness against hers. The thought of it brings heat to her belly, makes her breathless. She can feel his hardness brushing against her bare leg. How she wants to touch it.
She is completely his. She always has been. Her love for Joseph covered her back in whipping scars and once put her on trial again. He could have abandoned her for the stories of her wantonness, the gossip about her and Governor Orning, but he did not. He married her. He made her respectable. If Joseph were to put a blade into her heart at this very moment, she would let him do so.
Maren pulls him deep within her, wrapping her arms around his back, as she lifts herself towards him, and he touches her so far inside. She must make no sound, yet it is so hard not to sigh with the rapture that fills her. Is the creation of a perfect soul meant to fill his parents’ with such mutual ecstasy?
They are awash upon each other. Her husband gently pushes the damp hair from her face.
‘Maren, my love,’ he whispers. ‘How glad I am to have found you.’
She is close to tears. She imagines his seed within her, the child she hopes taking root. The brother that will protect her daughter.
A boom of thunder crashes outside and she trembles as she feels the fury of it from the roots of her hair to her fingertips.
‘Hush my sweet, it is but the storm beginning,’ Joseph says, believing she is frightened. The thunder continues and she hears pellets of hail striking the roof. A storm in Vardø can only mean one thing. The black hound is back. Her body is tight with anticipation. Though her husband faces her, it is as if the vision of his gentle eyes, his flushed cheeks, and yielding mouth recedes.
Joseph holds her tight. Maybe he senses it too, that Maren’s soul is running away from him like grains of dry snow through his hands. He fears the morning she may be taken from him. And he is left, their marriage bed full of ashes.
(Copyright N. Harrison 2018)
(Still Image from Robert Eggers’ 2016 movie The Witch)
(Witchcraft: witches and devils dancing in a circle. Woodcut,
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images