ARCANE MEMOIR: AN ONLINE WRITING WORKSHOP

A workshop exploring the story of Tarot as a prompt and informant to our writing process and our personal narrative 


August 20, 2022 7pm BST online via Zoom. £25. Book your place now.


In this two hour workshop we will use the iconography of the tarot’s major arcana as prompts to memory and personal narrative.

You don’t need to know how to read tarot to participate, but those who do work with tarot will find a new way to use your insights with this divination tool to broaden and deepen your writing. 

I have thirty years of experience working with tarot. As a child, my first conversations with the cards were as a mysterious game. In this workshop we will rekindle a bit of this wonder as we delve into our pasts on the page. 

This workshop is a safe space for women, people of colour and LGBTQ+ people. While we may discuss our writing process, any sharing of our written work will be voluntary. 

At the end of the workshop you will have sketched out a short piece of memoir writing with a plan for development and revision. 

You will need paper and pen, or something to input text. The major arcana cards from a personal tarot deck is optional—an online deck is available here. https://randomtarotcard.com

Find the Eventbrite page here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/arcane-memoir-an-online-writing-workshop-tickets-383322346457

Allyson Shaw brings ten years of experience teaching writing at University of California and city colleges in the USA. She has delivered numerous community based workshops throughout her career, including online workshops for the Taibhsear Collective. Recent publications include Fireside Quarterly, Rituals and Declarations, and Fiddlers Green. Her creative nonfiction book, Ashes and Stones: a Scottish journey in search for witches and witness, will be published by Sceptre, the literary imprint of Hodder & Stoughton, in January 2023.

Ashes and Stones to be published by Sceptre in January 2023

Excerpt from Nicola Sturgeon’s speech on International Women’s Day

I longed for an authentic glimpse of the women executed for witchcraft hundreds of years ago, and I went out into the landscape to meet them. Their voices and lives became braided with my own in moving and unexpected ways. I’m excited that Sceptre will bring this humanising perspective on the accused to a wider audience.’

–Allyson Shaw

The day after Nicola Sturgeon issued a formal apology for those accused of witchcraft in Scotland, Sceptre has publicised the press release for my book on the same topic. It is wonderful timing. Sturgeon’s apology is healing not only the past but present and future misogyny. I am moved to tears and so proud to be Scottish right now.

From the Ashes and Stones trade announcement:

 Ashes and Stones is a moving and personal journey, along rugged coasts and through remote villages and modern cities, in search of the traces of those accused of witchcraft in seventeenth-century Scotland. We visit modern memorials, roadside shrines and standing stones and roam among forests and hedge mazes, folk lore and political fantasies. From fairy hills to forgotten caves, we explore a spellbound landscape.

Allyson Shaw untangles the myth of witchcraft and gives voice to those erased by it. Her elegant and lucid prose weaves threads of history and feminist reclamation, alongside beautiful travel, nature and memoir writing, to create a vibrant memorial. This is the untold story of the witches’ monuments of Scotland and the women’s lives they mark. Ashes and Stones is a trove of folklore linking the lives of modern women to the horrors of the past, and it is record of resilience and a call to choose and remember our ancestors. 

Charlotte Humphery, Senior Commissioning Editor at Sceptre, who is working with Francine Toon’s authors while Toon is on parental leave, says: ‘Ashes and Stones is a beautiful exploration of a dark history that is often forgotten or trivialised. Thousands of women were murdered by state forces during the witch hunts and Allyson Shaw revives some of these women – through historical records, physical presence and informed imagination – with tenderness and compassion. In this book, she has created her own memorial that is rich with magic of folk lore and the power of the Scottish landscape and resonant with the politics of today. We are delighted to be publishing this brilliant and important book.’

Headline from the Bookseller

Reclaiming Our monsters: A writing workshop

Online via Zoom, April 30th, 7pm gmt Tickets are £25 available from Eventbrite

In this two hour workshop we’ll explore the monstrous through an intimate, personal perspective. We’ll embrace the persona of the outsider, the not-quite-human, using subversive world-building, and writing through the eyes of the cursed, the spellbound, the exiled. 

April 30th is the second Halloween of the witches’ calendar. The veil is thin, the dead walk among us, werewolves are born and all good witches fly to the Brocken. 

Let’s celebrate and write stories together. 

For this workshop you’ll need a pen, paper and a six sided die. 

 This workshop is driven by feminist ideas, reworking the monstrous into new empowering guises—but also a way to explore folk horror as a wider genre with space for women and non binary people. Every workshop I design is an offering of community, creative fuel and fire to the writers and makers around me. And this one is GONNA BE HELLA FUN. 

Enroll now.

Writing Yourself Home: a masterclass

My next writing workshop will be on Sunday, February 27th at 7pm GMT. This two hour workshop will explore rendering a sense of place in writing. Exercises will centre on facets of setting informed by notions of the Scottish diaspora and an anti-colonial re-enchantment of land, place, and home. Numbers will be very limited, with five spaces reserved for patrons. Tickets are £25 Book your place via the Eventbrite workshop page.


This is the first in a series of creative writing master classes focusing on new nature writing, folklore and ritual through the lens of technique. These writing classes will be aimed at serious writers and creatives, regardless of previous writing experience. 

New Benefits for Patrons

I have a core of brilliant subscribers who show their support on Patreon.  This month, after Storm Arwen took off part of my roof, they literally helped keep a roof over my head.

To show my thanks I’m rolling out new benefits for all patrons—whether you have been with me from the start or are joining today! 

These benefits include:

*Exclusive discounts at my online shop http://www.feralstrumpet.com.  

*Discounts for online writing workshops I’ll be hosting in the new year.

*Monthly community Q&A Hangouts via Zoom. (Hangouts will be 7pm GMT, which is 11am PST, 2pm EST and 8am in New Zealand, etc.—[the world is mostly awake.]) The meetings will be a chance for this vibrant, creative community to talk about what we are working on and thinking about. 

This Patreon tier is $5 a month, payable in your country’s currency. You can join up here.

Rites for Writing Workshops

NOTE–These workshops have sold out. Please contact Taibhsear Collective to be added to a waiting list.

Very excited to be teaching a series of writing workshops for Winters last. 

Dr. Alice Tarbuck will be teaching the first three workshops in the series, and I’ll be teaching the last three workshops, the Secrets of Our Craft:

  • Calling Corners: a crash course in first lines, new habits and starting out. In this workshop we will discuss ways to face the blank page, modes of creating a writing ritual for yourself and as well as warding your practice in the face of upheaval and uncertain times.
  • Temporal Shifts: a guide to writing as the ultimate time travel. In this workshop we will look at the element of time in storytelling, using non-linear narrative and foreshadowing to build excitement and movement into our work.
  • Second Sight: a hands-on workshop to help you see old work in new ways. Revision is a mode of perceiving possibilities and it is the secret to powerful writing. In this workshop we will look at techniques for re-visioning– getting a second look at your first drafts and developing all your raw wildlings into powerful writing that embodies your intentions.

For more information, see the Eventbrite page.

Karen McCrindle Warren on her Highland Bagpipe Composition for the Accused


“The Burning of the Nine Women on the Sands of Dumfries, April 13th, 1659.
By J. Copland, Dundrennan

I spoke to Karen McCrindle Warren about her Piobaireachd, composed for the Highland Bagpipes.

You can hear Karen play her Piobaireachd  here.

The tune is one of memorial and witness for women executed in Dumfries in 1659, but also stands in as a memorial for all those executed for whom there is no physical memorial.  The tune was commissioned by Steve Rooklidge of the Shasta Piping Society of California. Asked for a remembrance piece for the “devastating witch trials that took place during the 16th and 17th centurires. A “Lament for the Accused”, if you will.” He included a link to the Interactive Witchcraft Map published by the University of Edinburgh. 

Questions in bold are mine. Here is what she told me: 

“This tune commemorates the events of 13th April 1659, when nine Galloway women were executed on Dumfries Whitesands.  Agnes Commes, Janet McGowane, Jean Tomson, Margaret Clerk, Janet McKendrig, Agnes Clerk, Janet Corsane, Helen Moorhead and Janet Callon, were “stranglit at stakes till they be dead, and thereafter their bodies to be burnt to ashes”.  This began a third peak in Galloway – more and more witch finders came forward, demanding their fees for rounding up suspects and torturing confessions from them.

“The tune is written in pentatonic G – the key that gives the most dissonance against the drones, symbolising the pain, fear and anxiety of these times, and the high G’s symbolising the screams of the ‘witches’ who were tortured for confession and put to such horrific public execution.  Not enough to kill them by strangling them at the stake, they had to be sure they were dead by also burning their bodies to ashes.”

Can you tell me more about how the Piobaireachd was commissioned? 

…I started looking through the map and searching for more information about witchcraft in Scotland, and particularly relating to Ayrshire, Dumfries and Galloway which is my area of interest.  I wrote music that was dark and desperate, but it took a while to find the story behind the title, and find the right title that suited the tune.  In the end, I felt the tune, title and story were a perfect fit.

Piobaireachd has a way of pulling at the heart strings, as the variations grow in intensity, it is like waves of grief coursing through the body and soul, returning to the calm of the ground as you try to compose yourself and move forward in life.

Karen McCrindle Warren

Your Piobaireachd is moving and intense, demanding time and space for witness. Traditionally, how has this style of composition been used in memorials?  

Piobaireachds have been used in memorials for centuries.  It is the traditional, ancient music of the bagpipe, and is often used to lament or salute those we have lost.  For example “Lament for Mary MacLeod”, “Lament for the Duke of Hamilton”, or “Lament for the Children” – this last one was written by Patrick Mor MacCrimmon who lost seven of his eight sons to small pox within a year.  This year the piping world lost a talented and lovely young man Alex Duncan at the age of 26.  A close family friend wrote a piobaireachd to commemorate him “Lament for Alex Duncan” and it was performed at the Glenfiddich Championship at Blair Castle where Alex used to spend a lot of time piping.  For one tune, our whole world came together and remembered this wonderful young man and mourned such a great loss to our community.  Piobaireachd has a way of pulling at the heart strings, as the variations grow in intensity, it is like waves of grief coursing through the body and soul, returning to the calm of the ground as you try to compose yourself and move forward in life.

What aspects of the history of the witch hunts informed your composition? 

I really didn’t know anything about witches in Scotland before Steve brought it up – we all learnt about Anne Boleyn having her head chopped off for being a witch, but I had never really considered witchcraft in Scotland.  What an eye opener that map was!  As I read into some of the cases, the things these poor people were being accused of was just crazy.  Anyone could fall out with you and accuse you of being a witch and your life would be over. Suspicion was enough to accuse, repute was enough to convict.  It must have been a terrifying time, and it was this state of distress I tried to bring out in the music. 

There is growing momentum for a national memorial to those killed during the witch hunts in Scotland. How do you see your composition playing a role in this work for a national monument? 

This isn’t something I’m familiar with but my music is freely available to anyone who wishes to listen, use it in memorials or learn to play it, and I hope it helps to evoke the desperation of the times and the memory of all these poor people who had their lives taken in such a cruel and violent way for nothing.

Karen can be found online at: 

www.elixir.scot

www.facebook.com/southwestscotlandcollection   

www.facebook.com/elixir.scot 

Ghost Missives Online Writing Workshop

As part of the Winter’s Last program, I will presenting poetry as well as teaching an online writing workshop on January 29th. 

Ghost Missives: A Writing Workshop Exploring Ancestors and Place

The nights are long and the veil is thin. We tell tales of the dead in verse and song and they tell of us in the wind, rain, ice, and stone.  

In this collaborative workshop, I will facilitate the writing of letters in prose poetry to and from the ancestors.  The writing will be rooted the Scottish landscape. To set the tone, the session will begin with readings specific to the liminal landscape, and move on to collaborative work.  I will guide the group as they work with prompts or “Wilding Cards” I will have made up.  These will be exchanged by the group. After some dealing and discussion we will get down to write using the prompts we all have. Writers will be invited to play with voice, speaking from the point of view of our ancestors, ourselves or the land itself. In the final section of the workshop there will be opportunity for further collaboration between writers as well as time to read and share with the group.

For more information on tickets and other presenters and workshops, go to the Tiabhsear Collective website