Croy Shore – a post by Gillian Shirreffs

On Saturday September 17th, during a Mill event that runs from 3pm until 5pm at The Draw in Appleton, there is a reading of my play, Croy Shore. By way of introduction, I’ve written the following blog post.

Croy Shore

I’m heading to Scotland in a couple of days and I’ve asked my husband if we can visit Croy Shore. He’s agreed, which is good of him because we’re not home for very long and it’s a distance from where we’ll be staying. Also, it’s not his place; it’s mine.

Croy Shore is a pretty stretch of beach on the rugged west coast of Scotland. It’s a bit of a bother to get to and there are lots of lovely spots in Scotland that involve no bother whatsoever – like the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, where we’ll actually be staying.

I first visited Croy Shore as child in the 1970s. Back then the overspill parking lot was a stretch of sand. Cars and campervans in hues of brown, orange and green would line up neatly next to the big rocks that signaled the entrance to the beach. We would arrive in our tangerine VW Beatle (a 1975 Jeans Beatle special edition, no less, with seats upholstered in blue denim) to meet up with aunts, uncles and cousins who often spent part of the summer in a nearby caravan park.

The weather was always good at Croy Shore. At least, in my rosy and revisionist memory, the sky is a perpetual blue and the children are forever swaddled in the sun’s warm rays.

I remember laughter. I remember searching for creatures in the shallows and running, chasing one another, along the shore.

From the beach you look out to Ailsa Craig, a rock of blue hone granite in the Firth of Clyde with the power to enchant, especially when the sun sinks behind its back. The name Ailsa Craig comes from Gaelic and means Fairy Rock. You can imagine what the mind of a child will do with that.

The thing, for me, that’s most special about Croy Shore is that nine years ago in April my uncle told me to go there. Thanks to Multiple Sclerosis I had been unable to feel my feet for a bit (or my legs, or my arms, or my torso) and I had a dream (literally I’d dreamt about it) that if I regained the feeling in my feet I would walk along a beach. I had become aware of all the simple pleasures I’d taken for granted and the thing I wanted most at that moment in my life was to be able to feel wet sand under my toes.

I’d confided this to my uncle; he was in a hospice, dying.  On one of my last visits, I whispered to him that the numbness had begun to recede; I didn’t know if it would last, but that morning I could feel my toes. He sent us off – me, and my husband – to Croy Shore.

It wasn’t magical at first. The long drive was uncomfortable as the muscles in my chest wall had been in spasm for weeks and the uneven path from the parking lot (cars are no longer allowed on the beach) proved a challenge, as did the sheer distance of the walk to the beach, which, it truth, was no distance at all. Eventually I reached the water’s edge.

It was spring, which, in Scotland, meant the water was frigid, but it didn’t matter; I could feel wet sand under my toes.

At some point later, frustrated by hours and days and weeks of bed rest, I began to write. Strangely, what appeared on the page were things that might best be described as poetry, in the loosest sense of the word. One of the first of these was entitled Croy Shore. A few years later it was published in an anthology of Scottish writing called, The Second Tide.

Croy Shore

Cyan sea merged into sapphire sky

on a chill spring day.

The last gift of a loved one

bequeathed from his hospice bed.


Arctic water startled toes

awakening from a trance –

a whispered dream

realised at last.


Feet, now liberated,

splashed in icy shallows

and limbs, still hungry

for release, basked in

a crisp sun.


I bathed in a silent melody –

enchanted by the day

I walked,


feet wet and gritty,

along Croy Shore.

It may seem odd that a play I subsequently wrote about a marriage in peril is also called Croy Shore. However, it made perfect sense to me.

A writing game, if you can call it that, I’ve found myself playing over the years involves me crawling out of my own skin and into the skin of someone else, usually someone who also has a neurological illness: a man in his twenties with a wife and two small sons; a single woman in her thirties who obsesses over the lives of the people she encounters in waiting rooms; a man in his forties confined to a wheelchair who has an overbearing mother and so on. One of the possible scenarios I pondered involved the effect illness might have on a marriage that, before the diagnosis, was already in difficulty. I gave my ill-fated couple, Craig and Sarah Anderson, access to Croy Shore to see what might happen. Unfortunately, for them, it didn’t go too well.

A reading of Croy Shore

Please join us on September 17 for a special event at The Draw from 3-5 pm. Free and open to the public.

The draw

On September 17, The Mill, A Place for Writers, in cooperation with The Draw community arts center, will present a reading of Gillian Shirreffs’ play, Croy Shore.

Croy Shore is set in Scotland. “It centers on the lives of Craig and Sarah Anderson, a couple whose relationship is threatened when disease enters their marriage as an uninvited guest. Into this fragile world, an old flame appears,” Shirreffs said.

Event Details:
Doors open at 3 pm, starting with a time when past, present, and prospective members of The Mill can meet and talk with each other, and with Mill teachers. The reading of Croy Shore will begin at 4 pm. The Draw community arts center is located at 800 S. Lawe St. Appleton, WI.

Gillian Shirreffs grew up in Stirlingshire, Scotland. She gained an MA in GillianEnglish Language from the University of Glasgow before embarking on a business career that led her to live and work in the US, France and Austria. Having been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2007, she began writing as a way to explore the odd world of illness into which she had been thrust. Her short stories and poetry have been published in anthologies of Scottish writing. In 2014 she gained an MLitt in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow. During this time she ran a successful letter-writing project that encouraged non-writers to tell their own MS diagnosis stories. This culminated in a book of letters, Step Inside MS, and a weeklong exhibition in the Scottish Parliament. In August 2015 her play, Croy Shore, was performed in Glasgow at the Centre for Contemporary Arts as part of a showcase of emerging Scottish talent. She moved to Neenah last summer and is on The Mill’s Board of Directors.

The Mill: A Place for Writers, now in its fifth year, was founded to create a center that would encourage the growth of the Fox Valley literary community and provide learning opportunities for writers at all levels. The Mill offers a broad range of classes and workshops on Fiction, Poetry, and Creative Nonfiction, taught by accomplished and widely published writers.

The Draw, combines workspaces and offices of digital and fine artists, a modern art gallery and a place to collaborate. The flexibility to adapt to the needs of the community and the artists is what makes The Draw unique.

Writing Routines: Planning for Success – by Michael Hopkins

Edward de Bono, famed guru on creativity, writes that inventiveness is not a process of chaos and spontaneity; rather, it is the result of breaking from old routines through the use of structure.

Let’s talk about sex (Ahhh, now I’ve got your undivided attention right?). Cialis commercials would have us believe that having a healthy and satisfying sex life is simply a matter of waiting, and “being ready for when the moment is right.” But, I know of couples that schedule a “date night” between Book Club and binge watching Orange is the New Black, or, House of Cards, on Netflix. This is not a bad idea. Failing to plan is planning to fail.

When I was freelancing as a music and book critic for five newspapers and magazines, I was also working a fulltime day job and raising three kids. I had something due every week, so I had to carve out the time from my busy schedule to write. Deadlines were wonderful devices that forced me to plan a writing routine, and in 15 years, I never missed one. Now, as a full-time writer working on fiction, out of my day job and the with the kids all raised, I have the luxury, or curse, of being able to put my personal writing projects aside to take a 30 mile bike ride, work all day in the garden, or, write a Blog post.  But I still need to establish self-imposed goals and routines, or I’d never finish anything. I wake at the same time each day, have a cup of coffee, read the news, check social media, meditate for 30 minutes, have another cup of coffee, and get to work by 10 A.M. I write continuously until 4P.M.

As a side note, I’ve had many aspiring writers tell me that they have a great idea for a book. Heading off their next comment, which is frequently a proposal for a partnership, where they give me the idea and I write the book, I interrupt them and say, “That’s great, now all you need is 10,000 hours on your ass in front of a keyboard and you’ll have your book!” Make no mistake, good intentions and ideas are important, but writers write. You have to put in the hard work of knocking out that first draft and revise, revise, revise. I always listen to music when I write a first draft, but I edit in silence. This is my variation on Hemingway’s comment: Write drunk. Edit sober.”

In Mason Currey’s informative and inspirational book, Daily Rituals, he gives us snapshots into how 160 notable artists work. William Faulkner wrote in the morning, F. Scott Fitzgerald worked at night. We learn that Charles Dickens, one of the world’s most prolific authors, needed absolute silence, had to have his office arranged in a very particular way, and scheduled his day, hour by hour, never veering a minute from his routine. Haruki Murakami made 180-degree lifestyle changes, shifting his habit of smoking 60 cigarettes a day, eating unhealthy and never exercising, to behaviors that made him more productive. The great science fiction writer Isaac Asimov would wake at 5 A.M., get to work immediately, and write all day, every day, including holidays and vacations. Stephen King famously admitted that when questioned on his writing habits, he had been telling a lie his whole life. He said that he’d told the press that he wrote everyday, except on his birthday and Christmas. This was a lie: he did write on his birthday and on Christmas.

Whether you have a lot of time, or a little, if you want to be a successful writer, you need to plan a routine. Setting goals on quantity or time can be a good start: for example, writing 5 pages a week, or 15 minutes a day. Tell everyone you know about your goals; this is a good way to establish a network of accountability and it will compel you to do the work. Don’t be a victim of your unfulfilled dreams; let them propel you, through action, into becoming the predominant creative force in your life. A funny thing occurs when you do this: you find happiness.

Take that first step. Not tomorrow, but right now. If not now, then when? Mark time on your calendar, perhaps in-between Book Club and Sex Night.


Michael Hopkins is a freelance writer and serves on the board of The Mill. He lives with his wife, cats and chickens on a modest farmette in Wisconsin. His first book of short stories will be published within the next year. (Yes, I’m setting up more accountability here)

It’s Summer! Time to read and write

It’s officially SUMMER!

Welcome to the new website for The Mill. Take a look around and let us know what else you’d like to see here.

There is still time to register for classes offered for readers and writers at The Mill, A Place for Writers.  First sessions start tomorrow.

Summer Writing Kickstart with Nikki Kallio begins June 27 (6 weeks)

Reading for Writers with Steve Polansky starts June 22 (8 weeks)

Poetry Re-vision with Karla Huston begins June 29 (6 weeks)

Fiction Workshop with Steve Polansky  begins June 22 (8 weeks)

All classes will meet at Trinity Lutheran Church in downtown Appleton from 7-9 pm. No sessions on July 4.