Yorick Radio Productions

Scintillating stories: Johnstone, Betts and Westfall

August 04, 2023 Rosie Beech Season 4 Episode 26
Scintillating stories: Johnstone, Betts and Westfall
Yorick Radio Productions
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Yorick Radio Productions
Scintillating stories: Johnstone, Betts and Westfall
Aug 04, 2023 Season 4 Episode 26
Rosie Beech

Content warning: Mentions of death and suicide

In this episode we share three Wonderfull collections of poetry by Shane Johnstone, Virginia Betts and Elinora Westfall. These collections explore some of the most specific of human emotions through beautiful language, confronting honesty, and a sprinkling of humour in the right places.

Guest Links:
Shane: https://www.facebook.com/shanejohnstonefiction
Virginia: https://virginiabetts.com
Elinora: https://uk.linkedin.com/in/elinora-westfall-9153941b7

Support the Show.

Show Notes Transcript

Content warning: Mentions of death and suicide

In this episode we share three Wonderfull collections of poetry by Shane Johnstone, Virginia Betts and Elinora Westfall. These collections explore some of the most specific of human emotions through beautiful language, confronting honesty, and a sprinkling of humour in the right places.

Guest Links:
Shane: https://www.facebook.com/shanejohnstonefiction
Virginia: https://virginiabetts.com
Elinora: https://uk.linkedin.com/in/elinora-westfall-9153941b7

Support the Show.

Hello and Welcome to ‘Scintillating stories,’ in this show we read short stories by a variety of authors. Today we are reading three collections of poems. 

Shane Johnstone is a Glaswegian poet, translator and writer. His first novel, ‘The Gods of Frequency’, was published in 2020, and his poetry, prose and translations have been widely published in Scotland.

What Was it Like?

After AC

It was sweltering, the heat pushed 

on your chest like a policeman. 

Parched, you sweated memories 

through your pores til your head was

dry. Silence came, erratically, among 

breaths and a jakie’s cortisol refrain, 

in your small bare pink room 

where you waited on the bed-less 

floor for news.

Your eyes opened from sleep in that room,

four blinks, like four staccato knocks 

on the door of absurdity. 

You could easily wake wishing 

for a large crowd of spectators

on the day of your ridiculous trial,

that they would welcome you

with obscene jowled wealthy faces,

grotesque wigs and questions of hatred,   

so that your chest would hum with delight.

Queen’s Park Bench

Clouds ahead like the arms of a grey cardigan, 

a whiff of pipe smoke to the brain, a sign 

that things will be the same again at the end 

of a cycle, that the greyness will pass soon. 

Down there in the grass crows are stamping, 

plotting, waiting for worms. Why 

don’t pedestrians walk with a straight back 

any more? The horizon is all hulking metal 

silouhettes gulping air and birds, grinding them

into Netflix. After watching the pinprick

of a dove die from afar I can go home

and eat a bowl of soup, but a hard black

crow skewering a worm, or a fat cat 

breaking a small bird’s back on your doorstep? 

These sights leave a bad taste in the mouth. 


Route 20 

Mausoleum Street. Gulls patrol, a slobbish 

conspiracy of yellow eyes, gobbed guards 

brooding over their catchments on 

fissured window sills, loitering before the sudden 

gross flappy burst as a shopper treads, quiet 

as a feather falling. Mid flight, they don’t flinch 

as a siren clips blue light through pedestrians’ 

tight shoulders with a thud like a silenced pistol.

Felt rather than heard, all our eyes are locked 

on glitches embedded in the morning route:

mouldy taco, marigolds pulling, 

trembling growbags, trespass litter, 

dirty green refusing not to throb in pavement cracks.

Virginia Betts is  a tutor, writer and actress from Ipswich in Suffolk. She runs Results Tutoring, and specialises in Neurodiverse learning styles, being neurodiverse herself. During the lockdown, she had poems, stories and articles published in literary journals, won prizes and published a story collection, The Camera Obscure, and Tourist to the Sun, a collection of poetry. She is a regular guest on BBC radio and she is  also a professional actor and performer. She formed The Dead Poets Theatre company, has played Kate Bush and has just  played Mary Boleyn and Elizabeth Barton with Black and White Productions in The Rise and Fall of Thomas Wolsey, by Suzanne Hawkes. She is currently writing her  next books. 

Tourist to the sun

Fired-up for take-off,

wearing my asbestos suit, designed to deflect,

I bring with me a cabin full of un-marked baggage for the hold.

Wing walker without a rope,

hurtling to the light fantastic,


First to sign up to step off the map;

where even the silvery surface is marked by dark spots;

even the brightest star is already dead.

With outstretched arms I 

surrender to the sun,

glide, star-shaped, licked by flicking tongues of flame,

into the white-hot core;

white heat devouring sound,

eclipsing time,

searing conscience and 

annihilating thought.

Not arrogance that brings me here,

but fear.

The elemental need to fly, unfettered,

to pilot my own craft;

to pierce reality,

and seek the truth behind it,

and, in seeking, half expect to find it.

And thus, avoiding bird-strikes,

negotiate safe water-landings

when at last I am earthbound;

within my hand,

a brand to fire my piece of earth’s story

when I return

scorched and burned.

Lost Property

If I collected all the lost keys – 

the ones on rings, or chains,

that drop into drains, 


and squat there,

sequestered out of sight,

rusting behind bars, 

far below blue sky,

in dank, stale beds,

just beyond light;

all the buttons, hanging by a thread,

that fall, unnoticed,

and fag-ends, and bits of cotton gone astray;

credit cards, 

slipped slyly from shallow pockets;

lipstick, abandoned by a sink-side;

drawing pins and tacks that nestle in soft pile

poised to pounce,

and pierce the flesh of hand or foot

like nails,

evading hammers,

spiralling from empty shelves

dropped down loudly

to swearing curses;

under sofas, between cracks,

rogue staples worked free, 

sending loose leaves

scattered to the wind;

If I could gather these,

place winking silver coins 

beside the rest; 

create small change;

collect them in a shiny tin;

then I might thread the needle,

mend the holes, 

pay my debts,

unlock all the doors,

and let the world back in.

My Love Is Pure

She has sapphire magpie wings

falling in sheets of silk; 

pale as death and fragile

as a cloud dissolved in mist.

She is amber wind, 

spins hypnotic whirling dance,

black as a raven in her soul

and silver-lined like heaven’s walls.

She has splintered egg-shell heart;

makes music like the gods.

She stirs the leaves; she lifts the waves;

Deep as a well; un-touched.

Always scratching at your core;

never enough; wanting more.

When she’s gone you cry her back

When she’s back, you hate her.

She will hush a lullaby,

drift you down in feather bed.

but hollow dreams are all she brings;

she’s always in your head.

Broken feather; angel wings

driven, like the slush in snow.

Nothing ever makes her go,

although she’s gone by morning.

I love her with my hollow bones;

I love her with my ragged face;

I’d give her everything I own

If she would stay this moment.

Tragic face on silver screen; 

dying swan; tormented scene;

and just as swift, a peaceful dream;

she wraps you up in linen sheets.

Always scratching at your core;

Never enough; wanting more.

That’s how you know your love is pure;

And that is why you hate her.


We meet in the street;

you fancy a chat,

and you go on and on

about this,

and that;

I admire your coat;

you admire mine;

I say you seem tired;

you say you’d look better

if you’d had the time,

this morning,

to put your face on.

To put your face on

means make-up;

like after a fight;

so maybe a brave face;

which is war-paint;

which then leads to Braveheart,

smeared and daubed,

leading the charge;

so, leads charging;

well, there’s my laptop

at home, charging up,

like a knight on a white horse-

or loitering alone

like the one in Keats’ poem,

where things wither by the lake;

which leads to monsters of the deep,

though technically that’s a loch,

like in a door,

without a key;

although the sound is soft…

A quay!

where War-Brides stand

to wave goodbye to their sweet heartland-

and your remark makes my thoughts take off;

spill into my brain

in split-second time,

and, as they take flight,

I miss your next lines.

So, I just keep quiet,

and nod and smile

in the right place, I hope;

put on a made-up face;

wear normality like a cloak;

play out the elaborate spectacle

of the mask, 

while behind the crafted veneer,

bottomless wells of thoughts

spiral down endlessly,

and the grey shadow of fatigue

follows fast.

Stepping Out On Derby Day

The moment before I stepped out,

Time arrested;

I saw the future played out before me

like a news reel;

like the life I would not live.

All sound stopped.

There was no chattering crowd,

jostling for a space against the fence.

I did not hear

crashing iron hooves,

or feel the ground’s vibration 

rise up through my feet,

and into my chest

to compete with my dancing heart,

and the sound of blood pounding 

through my swimming head.

The air sizzled with static,

as if earth were anticipating; 

bracing for impact.

There was no question

of waiting;

we were meant to meet-

the horse and I-

on this unexpected battlefield.

Not a drawn-out fight;

an almighty explosion of light

and sound, thundering down,

to plough me to the ground,

its rippling body tearing 

into mine.

One small step for woman

to change the course of time.

In My Shoes

I have walked in many kinds of shoes:

When I was small

they were a perfect fit; 

sturdy quality,

parading in dim-lit shops

smelling of dust and leather;

made-to-measure, and fashioned

with love.

And as I grew,

I tried my mother’s shoes for size;

towered inches higher;

paper-stuffed the toes;

clip-clopping up the hall

like a new-born foal.

And there were other shoes to come -

ballet pumps,

that took me pirouetting

over quavers; crotchets, with a minim rest;

until I took to dancing to a different tune.

I squeezed my feet

into ankle boots

and kitten heels with pointed toes;

tottered unsteadily,

wiggled like Monroe;

danced ‘til 3am in six-inch heels,

and then limped home,

walking wounded;

barefoot; blistered; bleeding,

dodging broken glass and needles;

those shoes you wear returning home 

by sunrise,

passing joggers on the way,

gratefully discard them by the bed,

as you crawl in shamefully,

with aching feet and head

as others start their working day.

I change shoes quite often.

Some I keep, like old friends;

some outgrow their use;

some look beautiful, 

although they pinch me 

and abuse;

some I gave away,

along the way.

The shoes I favour now for comfort

do not mistake for dull;

they shine so brightly!

I walk in them for miles

as I trip lightly 

on the roads and paths I make, 

I leave behind a trail

of stars and rainbows

in my wake.

I read once about a boot re-patriated;

leg still inside!

back from foreign soil,

to re-unite with owner, long dead.

Such is the power of shoes 

to bring us back home.

I will end my days un-shod,


when finally I end the merry dance

relieving weary soul,

hoping that my child

will always wear the shoes that fit.

Elinora Westfall is a multi-award-winning writer of stage, screen, fiction, poetry, and radio from the east of England. Influenced by David Bowie, Virginia Woolf, and Dusty Springfield,  Elinora’s first full-length poetry collection, Life in the Dressing Room of the Theatre, and her collection of short stories, The Art of Almost, are forthcoming with Vine Leaves Press in late 2023 and 2024.

Her novel, Everland was selected for the Penguin and Random House WriteNow Editorial Programme in 2021. Her short films have been selected by Pinewood Studios & Lift-Off Sessions, and her theatre and audio shows have been selected by The British Library and performed at Winterfest on Broadway, where she won the award for Best Monologue. Elinora was also selected as one of the 2022/2023 All Stories alumni.

Coal to Burn the World

I do not belong here.

I, do not belong

Belly down against flat earth I,

Splinter like sheet glass

beneath boots that crack my spine

I. Do not belong.

I, a feather bed to my own head

My Own, very particular kind of madness

Lying here, on the ground

Life in my teeth, my mouth, my tongue

But still, I breathe

Still not choked after

All these

All these

All of these


One, after the other, after the next, after the next

Life. I see it now, stretched too thin with a punctured eye and I see it

How the weeping willow would watch the river bed should I drown

belly up, this time

Eyes like sea glass

Mouth like a fish

Try them all,

Try them all,

These ways to sink a ship, to skin a cat, to catch a mouse

To break a heart

Sink me, rock bottom, 

Drown me, slowly,

Take the coins from my mind’s eye and sell my universe for coal to burn the world


But still, I will breathe

Because, I 

Do not belong.

Where Plants Reside

I trespass, not wantonly, not lonely,

but vigorously

through heart-lines, word-lines

torn heart-shaped pages, set aside by time

I think,

I think,

how I might be, while the flowers lean

closer than they might, to me now


Lean and smother, thick with wild violets and hung with the wildest honeysuckle

I would grow roots, then,

roots of daisies, crocus, buttercup, dandelion

and bloom in spring

I, who leaves the inexpressible to the page but becomes no nearer

to expressing


But that is how it should be

and one day, when the plants reside, root down in the place where my heart once was

The daisies will turn their faces to the sun, the grass will blow in next weeks wind

and my heart will always be the rose that will forever bloom


Just for you


On the 28th March 1941, Virginia Woolf drowned herself in the River Ouse. This poem is a moment wherein Virginia Woolf’s sister, Vanessa Bell, is writing to her sister, only a week or two after her death, where life continues to break back in, with all of its sharp edges.


Have you ever been to Merivale?

She writes. While

Angelica, (six), fist full of flowers, arranges them in a pattern similar to that of the painted tile of the hearth.

Violet stalks with purple faces for the V and daisies for the W while she sits, cross-legged, in the milk-dish of sunlight coming in through the half-open door.

Have you ever been to Merivale?

She begins again. Blots the end of the pen, nib down for too long on the fold of cloth.

Watches the ink bleed out blue, blue, blue…Perhaps-

She falters,

Perhaps we shall go, you, me-

A song thrush in the wisteria just outside of the window calls from her nest, Leonard whistles back from where he stands between the tulips

Vita perhaps,

Angelica hums a tune half-forgotten and half-remembered,

and the children, of course, they do so love to see you.

She smiles, watches her daughter weave her own initials with petals from the Forsythia.

And, upon our last visit, Angelica fell rather in love with a cow which she gave your name to-

Out in the garden again, just by the door, Angelica picks weeds, plucked with the hollow sound of the milk thistle or dandelion stalk

A brown cow, all doe-eyes, soft-muzzle. Standing on legs with knees like pollarded trees.

She smiles. Gains momentum. Shifts in her chair that creaks and scrapes against the flag-stone floor.

Netty’s here, folding your stockings, rolling them into yellow balls like eggs - like eggs, in a basket.

As soon as she is gone, I’ll unravel them, fitting perhaps, for I seem myself unravelled.

She hears Netty on the stairs. Knows the satisfaction she will gain from this rolled nest of previously unravelled and unkempt stockings.

Did I tell you I see Vita now?

She comes to dinner in your place, sits in your chair with its back to the fire, with some hesitation, of course.

She looks at me.  And I in her see you, and you in me she sees, though neither of us has spoken of this of course.

Instead, darling Tom slaps cards down upon the table, Queen of Hearts upturned, only fleetingly, between her and I,

And then, of course, Duncan slaps his card down too - the King, perhaps, of Spades, as suits him, and the moment passes, without whistle or trace-

The song thrush sings again, greets her mate with a beak of soft sheep’s wool scraps.

- only the echo for which I have spent these last few weeks digging for beneath the roots of speculation, only to find dust and grit, the shrivelled bulb of a daffodil dug up too often and the skull of a blackbird buried by Angelica, I am sure, though at your behest.

Now, the ticking of the clock, the whirr, the readying, readying, then the chime. Too loud. Always, too loud.

She closes her eyes, waits, waits, for stillness, and then-

Have you ever been to Merivale?

She has digressed for too long.

I ask not because of the (now) literary bovine, but because, in passing a cottage I noticed a young woman, a girl, perhaps, sat, elbows on the windowsill, Mrs Dalloway between her hands - and it was such a shock to see you there, so suddenly, so starkly, in this house painted the colour of our Cornish sea, because you see (as only you do, you did) I look for traces of you, without knowing it at all, and I find I cannot speak, cannot say, as you would have done, so eloquently, but I cannot, neither with voice nor with pen the pain it is to glimpse you so suddenly, and so sharply within your absence.

The house is quiet, the bird has flown, Angelica has gone, the garden too tempting.

Such is death.

The stillness stretches.

But one of these days we may contrive to speak again. Who knows?

Again, the stillness

My darling Virginia, I miss you.

And this letter is nothing, without you to receive it.

The hesitancy of pen held above paper.

Yours, always,


Thank you so much for listening. Our Halloween competition  is open till the 1st of september. We’re holding a competition to hunt for truly haunting writing. Entries should be prose fiction, non-fiction or poetry and should fit the theme of ‘Halloween’. Think ghosts, ghouls, and goblins, witches, werewolves and warlocks.

The winner and runners up of our Halloween competition will receive a cash prize and be featured on our podcast each week in October leading up to Halloween. Find out more details of the ‘tricks and treats’ on offer on our website. There will be a link in the description.

We’re just dying to read your submissions! 

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