Elaine Morrison and Sandy Winterbottom

Elaine Morrison and Sandy Winterbottom

Issue One: Introduction

In early 2023, an informal gathering of nature writers with some loose connection to Stirling University, took place. We talked of the ways in which we might add our voices to the urgency of the climate debate. This is how paperboats was born.  

As nature writers, we are more comfortable in the wild, semi-feral, immersed in the rich diversity of life that has – incredibly – evolved on this planet. Where else in the entire universe might exist gannets or whales or echoes of wolves? It is a rare place indeed, and you will see from these vivid accounts, that this Earth is extraordinary.

But you will sense the undertow of fear too. It is the opening line of Chris Powici’s lingering poem, Loch Striven, titling this issue, that is most haunting of all:

      ‘This is what the world was like.’

As you read these pieces, remember this phrase; it is time stamped like a watermark through its digital pages. The shrill drift of baselines and new precedents will have already moved us on a notch.

The flourishing of life since the last ice sheets ebbed from our shores ten thousand years ago, and the great expansion of humans too, has taken place in a time of exceptional calm. Our climate, often prone to veering between extremes has for now, been relatively benign, was due to be benign for another fifty-thousand years at least. But we’ve knocked it off kilter.

Kathleen Jamie mulls it over from a high bluff above the Forth, watching oil tankers come and go, waiting for a glimpse of whales who navigate through the cluttered firth. ‘Imagine if Ocean Valiant was a blue whale, not a superannuated oil rig. Or if Viking Warrior was a great living creature, rather than a tug manoeuvring a tanker,’ she asks, slipping into an alternate realm where all this oil might have been quickly mopped up when we were first warned of its dangers. She spears the issue with precision: ‘The world is not infinite. We’ve learned that much.’

From the giddy cliffs of the northeast coast, Polly Pullar immerses herself in the raucous din of Scotland’s only mainland gannet colony: ‘gannets are brilliant – brilliant black and white, brilliant flyers and divers, simply brilliant birds. When you are privileged to spend time in their company, that radiant brilliance enters your soul.’ But here too lurks loss as avian influenza has left its peculiar and devastating mark on the colony. ‘Last year, bodies resembling sodden grey dishcloths littered beaches, their dagger-like bills wedged in sand or between stones, like abandoned blunt knives in the bottom of a crumby cutlery drawer.’

On Rannoch Moor, Leonie Charlton seeps into the peaty warmth, bleeding through boundaries of the human and non-human, and finds folklore and wolves bleed back. But she recognises her human limits too: ‘I may often get it wrong, but the intention is always to connect, empathise and love as we keel towards unreliable horizons.’

Those unreliable horizons now loom over these landscapes. Their future depends wholly on this precise present and what we chose to do with it.

‘Fiddling with a laptop whilst Rhodes burns,’ Karen Lloyd reminds us of ‘the obligation to ameliorate how we conduct our lives and the impacts of our actions upon nature.’ She reflects upon our role as writers: ‘we are part of nature, and that sense of belonging brings with it responsibilities.’ Our world is changing faster than imagined or predicted but it is ‘worth fighting for in whatever way is open to us,’ she writes.

We acknowledge our privilege to be so deeply immersed and cosseted within Scotland’s abundant shores. Nature will recover with or without us, but this crisis is fundamentally a human one, started by colonialism – Scots among them – and fuelled by capitalism. The majority world has borne the brunt of this as vast tracts of their lands have become increasingly uninhabitable. Reparations and climate justice are an essential part of the solution to this emergency. What we do with our privilege matters.

We are at heart gentle introverts, more at home at our desks or knee high in bog cotton on the hill than standing about with placards, but needs must and we are as a collective, desperately worried at the speed and ferocity of the climate crisis. Our politicians have been stifled into inaction for far too long. We fell for the half-hearted promises, but we will not do so again. The necessity of a liveable planet is no longer a political issue. It is a fundamental human and non-human right.

As you read this first issue of our zine, think on all those that have said before us, this is what the world was like.


Issue One: Guest Editors

Elaine Morrison lives in Aberdeenshire and has a background working in education and community development. Her academic background is in geography, sociology and environmental science. She stepped out of her comfort zone (and career) to graduate with a master’s in creative writing and Scottish literature from the University of Stirling in 2020. Elaine writes essays and poetry in both English and Scots and has work published in various literary magazines.  She is writing her first book.

Sandy Winterbottom spent most of her career as an academic, teaching and researching in the Environmental Sciences and working in the renewables industry. She completed the Creative Writing Masters Programme at Stirling University. Her first book, The Two-Headed Whale is published by Birlinn and Greystone.