Testing Grounds Bonus Episode: ‘Seasickness/Cur na Mara – a short story by Mairi Macleod’, now available

Bonus: Seasickness/Cur na Mara – a Short Story by Mairi Macleod Testing Grounds

In this bonus episode, Glasgow-based Gaelic writer Mairi Macleod reads her short story, Seasickness/Cur na Mara. In 2023, Mairi was commissioned by NAARCA to create a short piece of fiction in both Scots Gaelic and English, and was also granted an 8-week residency at Saari Residence in Finland, where she wrote Seasickness.

Mairi’s writing engages with humanity’s relationships with space, place, and the complex thing we call “nature”. As a young woman writing in a minority language, she wants to contribute not just to the survival of Gaelic, but to its blossoming and evolution.

In Seasickness/Cur na Mara, Mairi draws on a traditional Scottish folk tale – the Selkie wife – and updates it for an age of climate crisis.

An interview with Leena Kela, Residency Director at Saari Residence

Leena: I’m Leena Kela, I’m the Residency Director at Saari Residence in Finland, and I’m with Mairi Macleod, a young Glasgow based writer, who writes in Gaelic and English. She was in residency at Saari for two months this year, during which time she was busy writing her commissioned text for NAARCA.

Katie: How did the writing commission come about?

Leena: Mairi was previously in residence at Cove Park, so the team there were aware of her work as a Gaelic writer and amazing artist. They put her forward for the NAARCA writing commission, which is commissioning texts from writers in the Nordic region and Scotland, and it was a perfect fit. We also decided that this would be a great opportunity to connect two of our residencies – Cove Park and Saari – via a residency artist, so we invited Mairi to Saari to work on the commission.

Katie: Why were you keen for Mairi to spend time at Saari?

Leena: I think it’s really great to be able to offer residencies for young artists. Mairi is still an emerging artist, at the beginning of her career, so having that opportunity to be amongst colleagues from various disciplines in the arts, and getting feedback from others is really fruitful and beneficial for the writing process.

Mairi also embraced the opportunity to present her work at a stage where things were still in process – receiving feedback that fed into the development process of the text. I think she really benefited from the special group of writers and artists that we had during that period. The shared working process, and possibility to reflect on works-in-progress with others was a great opportunity to offer Mairi.

Katie: It’s my understanding that Mairi travelled overland. Can you just tell us a bit about why it was important that she had that opportunity to slow travel to Saari?

Leena: We offer the option for our residency artists to slow travel firstly for environmental reasons. Some of them are familiar with it already, and some of them are doing it for the first time. I think this was the first time that Mairi came to Finland, and the first time that she travelled from Glasgow via mainland Europe.

But also, arriving slowly kind of tunes you in. We consider it to be a liminal stage of the residency process, in-between leaving the home context, and preparing to arrive in a new context. During that time there is the opportunity to prepare your work mode somehow, which is important. What I’ve heard from Mairi is that it was a really good experience. It’s slow – you really experience the distance in your body, as well, when you travel by land and by sea.

Many people also report that they work quite well on trains, so it’s already activating a kind of other way of thinking. Maybe it’s not slow thinking – thinking can be quite fast when you’re travelling slow! But on planes, you’re travelling so fast that you don’t have time to process.

Katie: Can you tell us a little bit about the text that Mairi wrote while she was at Saari?

Leena: Mairi’s story is a contemporary version of the selkie folk tale. Coming from a Finnish context, I wasn’t familiar with the story of the selkie, I had to Google it! In her presentation for the other residency artists and researchers, she got feedback about the gender roles that the story presents, and she was really considerate of that. I’m really happy with the result, and also how it links the folk tale to our contemporary climate problems and changing environment.

Katie: Why do you think the story is relevant to NAARCA’s work?

Leena: Firstly, how it’s located – because it’s by a Gaelic writer, from Scotland – but also how it links humans, belonging, the seas, transformation processes, and this state of ‘in-betweenness’. It also asks questions related to the changes in the seas, which we are not capable of observing in the same way as we can observe changes on land. So, the seal person in the story is a mediator of that knowledge – I think that’s relevant.

Find out more:

Saari Residence: https://koneensaatio.fi/en/

Cove Park: https://covepark.org/

Credits: Testing Grounds is produced and edited by Katie Revell and includes original music by Loris S. Sarid and artwork by Jagoda Sadowska. With thanks to Alex Marrs and the rest of the NAARCA team.

A captioned version of this episode is available on YouTube.

Featured in this episode:

Mairi Macleod (she/her)

Mairi Macleod (b.1996) is a Gaelic writer from Glasgow, Scotland. A graduate of the University of Glasgow, she completed an undergraduate degree in Geography and a master’s degree in Earth Futures. Her creative work echoes her academic interests, critically engaging with humanity’s relationships with space, place, and the complex thing we call ‘nature’. As a young woman writing in a minority language, she wants to contribute not just to the survival of her language, but to its blossoming and evolution in different spaces.

In 2023, NAARCA commissioned a short piece of fiction in Scottish Gaelic that will be translated in English. This piece weaves the critical exploration of environmental issues with intersectional feminist themes. At the centre of this work will be embodiment, belonging, and human-animal relations. Writing in her native language of Scottish Gaelic, Mairi will also explore how the survival of minority languages intersects with the survival of “wild” spaces and landscapes. One of the short stories she will write is entitled Cur Na Mara (Seasickness) and will reimagine the story of the selkie wife (a well-known folk tale in Celtic and Nordic folklore) in the contemporary context of changing coastal and marine environments. As part of this commission, Mairi was granted an eight week funded residency at Saari Residence (Finland) after being awarded the Comhairle nan Leabhraichean / The Gaelic Books Council Gaelic Writer Residency at Cove Park (Scotland) in November 2022.

Katie Revell (she/her)

Katie Revell is a Glasgow-based freelance audio producer and (lapsed!) filmmaker with a particular interest in food, climate change, and relationships to the land. She grew up on the southeast coast of Scotland and has also lived in Germany, India and the USA. Since 2016, Katie has been part of the team behind the award-winning Farmerama Radio podcast, which shares the voices of regenerative and agroecological farmers in the UK and beyond. Katie was lead producer of Farmerama’s first series, Cereal, which explored the history of bread and profiled the UK’s “new grains movement”. She also co-produced Landed, a personal exploration of land ownership and colonial legacy told by a farmer’s son as he returns home to his family farm. Katie believes passionately in the need for creative responses to climate change, and is delighted to be on the NAARCA team.

Images provided by Mairi Macleod, from her time at Saari Residence.

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