Janet Coats Memorial Prize

The deadline for submissions for the 2021 Janet Coats Memorial Prize has now passed.

Janet Coats was part of the renowned thread-making family J&P Coats. The eldest daughter of Margaret Glen and Thomas Coats, who was one of four brothers that inherited the Paisley-based thread manufacturing company. Janet's literary aspirations resulted in two volumes of nature-inspired poetry, one of which was published as Verses and Rhymes in 1899. Janet Coats was the wife of the publisher James Tait Black.

The theme of the 2021 Paisley Book Festival is, Radical New Futures, motivated by the importance that green spaces have played as solace and recuperation over the last year. Green spaces can be grand places of outstanding beauty or small, resilient patches of nature in the hearts of our towns and cities. They can be anything from parks to window boxes. Some are carefully manicured, others are unkempt and wild.

The judging panel for 2021 is poet and playwright and Scots Makar, until 2016, Liz Lochhead: poet, writer and creative practitioner, Nadine Aisha Jassat: and the current Tannahill Makar, Brian Whittingham.

The shortlist for both the Under and Over 18s Categories are below:

Under 18s Shortlist:


Breathe by Gemma Livingstone (S1, Castlehead High School)

Seven decades ago I began to breathe

A new life watching over a new house

Part of a new estate being built

The town growing into the green belt

The houses spewed black smoke as coal fires burnt

The cars pumped out an awful smell into the air

And when I looked up

The same engines were in the sky

But the houses aren't so black now

The cars are not as odious

But the planes still fly overhead

Now in ever growing numbers

Today there are no planes flying by

The cars are not moving

The people are in lock down

And I am still standing here breathing

It has become so much easier

Than it was even just last year

The sparrows have returned the flowers are blooming

Children are playing hide and seek

Have the humans learned?

Is it going to keep getting better?

Will the planes ever return?

Will the cars ever move again?

And when will they plant more of me?

After all I’ve stood here for seventy years

And I have breathed for you

So will you breathe for me?

Runners Up

Poem 3 by Emma McCallum (S2, Castlehead High School)

we all have those days where we just don’t wanna wake up,
I have those days often.
I was walking, alone.
But I wasn't alone,
I could hear the song of the birds clearly.
It was comforting.
I came to a stop at a lake,
One thought came to mind.
I took a breath and looked away,
I hated my appearance.
Rain had started to fall into the water,
My reflection disappeared.
The rain slowly dripped down my face.
For a long time I was good at it,
Good at feeling absolutely nothing.
The sound of thunder had overtaken me,
7pm had turned to 3am within minutes.
I watched the water slowly fall off the leaves in the moonlight.
I closed my eyes,
I was at peace

Let That Be Our Green Space by Alasdair Napier (S1, Castlehead High School)

Let that be our green space


take a moment

to look


and be grateful

for our garden.

Snapshots and snippets in time

when visits were banned, we could still meet

socially distanced


and safe.

We played catch,

competed in circuits for 10k steps,

planted seeds and watched them grow

and waited to see if they were wild.

Or weeds.

We ate crisps on the backdoor step

And clapped on the front for the NHS.

We celebrated,

sheltered from the rain,


collected apples,

and chopped wood.

We huddled by the fire and wore blankets,

launched fireworks.

We mirrored the season’s change.

Our green space sleeps

and waits.

As we wait

for bright days ahead:

to find new memories created

in our green space.

Under 18s Highly Commended:

Green Space Poem by Cameron Walker (S2, Castlehead High School)

The blinding sunlight breaks through the ancient trees,

The aroma of fresh lavender darts up my nostrils, it smells of hime

I look out to the fresh fields of shrubbery and flowers, it looks like a painters pallet,

The planks groan as I hurry along the decrepit bridge,

As the wind whistles through the trees, I feel free

Free frae the hoose

Treehouse by Dawn McGuire (S2, Castlehead High School)

I feel the sunlight shing through the trees.

I watch the wind wandering through the leaves.

I breath in slowly the fresh crisp air calming

Walking up the winding steps slowly.

Excitement bubbling inside me;

The world slowly swallowing me.

The wooden floor old and covered with moss

As I walk to the small window,

Taking in the woods, the trees, the mountains

The world…

The treehouse contains the memories of many

The nostalgia surrounds me… consumes me.

From the day we found it until now.

The treehouse is a part of the woods,

The trees have retained it,

The mountains surround it,

The world protects it.

Upon the Hill by Sarah Fulton (S5, St Andrews Academy)

You stand upon the hill,

Barefoot among the blades

As they bow towards you.

The sky,

As pale a blue as blue can be,

Stretches for miles on the horizon,

And you look to it.

Who knows how long this moment will last?


Genuflecting on your steps,

Carry leaves on their fingers

Like rings,

Admiring them themselves

Before offering you a glance.

And you take it.

Upon the hill,

You drown in an emerald glint.

Mother Nature always did have her favourites,

And today she’s chosen you.

With a yawn,

You brush fingertips with the Gods,

Reaching to the skies

As nature yields to you.

Your hair,

Like a petal in the breeze,

Departs from its constrictions,

And flies.

In this green glacier,

You’re all you’ve dreamed to be.

The air,

Fresh and smooth,

Glides into your lungs

And in turn, blooms a flower.


In these green spaces,

Will thrive forever,

And become one with the earth.

Even if the world itself,

Shuffling hastily along,

May someday,

Fade and whimper.

Over 18s Shortlist:

Runners Up

The Gulls' Lament by Marka

Whaur are oor ready meals

on chipped ice

unner the clarty wheels

or scattered by roller shutter

gates? Whaur are the ballin

twa-legs whae filled oor gutters

wi guts and fish heids?

They’d share pizza an chips,

chucked up for oor catch,

or bits o pierogi

we snatched when scunnert


But noo,

nae shrimp,

nae tails,

nae dieseled air,

nae hoachin,


Somethin’s wrang.

Pitches is empty,

nae fitba pies.

Shoaps is empty,

Nae fancy pieces.

Nae wains aboot wi

pokes o’ steamin treats.

Nae dotterin auld yins

wi a shoogly grip.

Nae mair skite tae the napper,

drap ’n grab an aff we skoot.

Whaur’s emdy?

We cram the sky wi cries

an drum the grass for

worms, makin dae,

an wait.

An wait.

Somethin’s wrang.

Bit whit?

A Trumpeter by Angus Bhattacharya

A Trumpeter toots a tune to turn heads away from the general gloom

Gliding over guys, girls and glitchers (gender flow-ers, switchers).

The pitch stirs, calms nerves,

creates verbs of smiling,


Beguiled corners-goers, filing away from their trials, imbibing the music maker's brassy beats,

start tapping feet as others cross the street into the park, before the evening dark descends,

allowing trumpet and two guitars to mend tensions, be momentary friends with their

improvised inventions.

No pretensions present as the crowd forms and warms, despite the frost, to the warbles and


the strumming and scoops of jazzy scales,

and trumpeter scales a park statue,

and from new view raises his horn to the blue hue of a cold sky for more who pass through to

have their ears mollified .

And the now large crowd is mystified in the mist,

satisfied in bliss.

It's a lullaby some miss, An old man mumbles a grumble,

'folk dignify this with a response?' "they just want your money!" he shouts once,

and carries on with nonchalance but all bonces are turned to the performers



squeezing the valves that are proving the salve for the general topsy turviness,

swerving us,

the unending, unnerving does get under everyone's skin,

and the cold freezing it on top makes all grateful for moments like this, to grin.

To stop. to listen. To share.

To bop along to some happy songs,

To throng with gratitude at each small interlude,

as the mood exudes positivity, fleeting it may be but we who witnessed in the wintery chill,

that makes all still except those with the will and the music to fill others spirits in this park,

resting up against bark, under shade makes the stage for toots in winter,

before buds shoot in spring and the fogs lifts in the air and the hearts of passers-by.


Background Paper 3 (Proposed Housing Developments, Dykebar) by Morag Smith

An indicative masterplan has been prepared

for this teenage Devil’s Playground

where gargoyles smile from burrs on trees

and lockdown lovers kiss in the patients’ garden,

slow-grown, gone in a blink

Garlic. Daisy. Hawksbeard. Bluebell.

Owners confirm the overgrown buildings

are surplus to current operational needs

Life overwinters in rubble,

dead wood is never dead, shelter

found in the hollows of a snag

Earwig. Weevil. Stonefly. Spider.

Perforated steel sheets the eyes

of B-listed ghosts, all blind

to milky sweep of winter sun while moss

coats the trunks of their sentinels

Possible adverse impacts have been examined

Oak. Rowan. Chestnut. Elder.

From the hill you can see layers

of coppice sway in South-Westerlies

lustrous sheets of rain drifting east

One day, not a blade of grass left

from Hazelwood to Councillor’s Wynde

River. Bog. Meadow. Woodland.

These lungs can’t breathe without marshy paths

leading nowhere, nests of brambles that root,

hatch, flower in spring and pipe their warnings

To ease removal from the Green Belt

further detail may be required

Chiffchaff. Dunnock. Song Thrush. Starling.

Over 18s Highly Commended:

Return to Edinburgh by Camilla Bell

Be still with the sky, it is dreaming onto you.

Watch its dusky particles


to bring you back to life.

I have been drifting,

stuck in flight mode,

that is no longer the case.

We came to terms with the wind again,

sought it on hills.

It freed our hair and tightly-wound coats,

it freed our troubles,

polished our cheeks.

There were more than four occasions

it made us gleam.

We fell giggling through gardens

stole figs (in Scotland!)

found down a tunnelled wynd,

a steep climb,

windy maze of cobbled streets –

the tumbled landscape

of my heart’s architecture.

The train took us too soon,

and seabuckthorn, smelled through mask

brought back the beach,

the brittle sea –

bracing us to plunge in

to stand, slick, green as seals

to be all body

but for once not feel.

The Only Way Out is to Cycle Through by Caroline Burrows

I pedalled out under a gloom ridden sky,

On a flat path haunted by ghosts of trees,

Their trunks, like a dead giant’s ribcage, twisted high.

Winds tore through those bones in bitter eddies,

A crumbling skin of leaves littered the trail,

Numbed, I cycled on, past those shadowy sentries.

I pedalled, met by clouds heavy with hail,

On the same path, the trees had mummified,

Each shrivelled branch pointing with a stubbed fingernail.

Ice hammered wood, out of sync, amplified,

The path was pelted as if detested,

I cycled past those clashing drummers, petrified.

I pedalled beneath clouds filled with a flood,

On the path, the trees stood over their graves,

Like bloated corpses that had ruptured, smeared with mud.

Murky sobs streaked down the trees in runged staves,

Trying to bandage the trunks with their grief,

Bogged down, I cycled through the path’s sludge filled concaves.

I pedalled to the sun in disbelief,

On the path, the trees were resurrected,

Waving hello breezily with each full green leaf.

Their branches formed a shelter overhead,

On the flat path, shadows and light shone through,

Making the shape of a ladder which led,

Me and my bike up, out into a brighter view.

Where the Wild Things Were by Sadie Maskery

This garden sprawls downslope

towards the sea. East to West, nettles

and butterflies; South, blown roses.

North, mildew and snails -

creeping things, slimetrails silver

and brittle in cool air.

Once were wolves with paws

heavy in the clay where now cats

tease thistledown in the restless breeze.

The bulk of drowsy wood pigeons

anchors the flight of skylarks above old walls.

Once I scratched a shard from its bed

and thought it was a tiger tooth

stained with old blood.

Herds of wild sheep grazed here.

A forest vaster than worlds made this soil.

Sprites and daemons bathed in pools

of moonlight cradled by trees.

Beyond, waves sighed or roared -

for always, and always, here hung

the salt scent of restless seas.

Now sparrows dance and bicker

in daisies and clover, sing of a past

when children played in a fairy's orchard

and slept in its shade.

Seasons to centuries to aeons turn

and memories burn bright but all will fade.

Dreams whisper on the wind.

Like the wolves, vanish in the night.