Books can aid you through the dark times

Breathing Space, Scotland’s phone line and website for people feeling down, anxious or depressed, celebrates its fourth annual Breathing Space Day across Scotland on Monday with the message “Open a book when you’re down”.

This year, the campaign celebrates the power of reading and writing to provide a break from our worries, lift our spirits and offer hope.

To celebrate the day, Breathing Space is giving away copies of the new booklet Open Up. It will be free in The Herald on Monday and available at Shetland Library, university and college libraries and at book stores across the country over the coming weeks.

Breathing Space Day is when the helpline encourages people to think of ways to take some time out to support their mental wellbeing in the year ahead.

Five of Scotland’s top writers have penned a new collection of short stories to celebrate the power of reading and writing to boost our mental wellbeing.

The stories by James Kelman, William Boyd, Jackie Kay, Denise Mina and Janice Galloway will appear in the booklet.

Local writers are also involved in the campaign, and three extracts by James Sinclair, Gordon Dargie and Donald S Murray are printed at the end of this piece.

National co-ordinator of Breathing Space Tony McLaren said: “The aim of Open Up is a simple one. We would like it to serve as a reminder of how the written word can boost our everyday wellbeing and help us recover from struggles or worries. By reading about how others cope with their feelings, or by reading about feelings we may recognise as our own, we begin to understand that journey of recovery.

“We are thrilled by the calibre of writers who are involved with this book. All the stories show that even in our darkest hours we can find reasons to keep going and recover from distress. These are challenging, some­times bleak, sometimes funny, but ultimately uplifting tales of people who choose life.

“We hope you find this book thought-provoking and entertaining. We hope it will remind you of how words – written and spoken – help us understand ourselves better.”

Poet and novelist Jackie Kay said: “I wrote this story during this year’s very heavy January snow. January is such a long month, and often people get very depressed. The story explores the complex and intimate relationship people can have with depression. As I contin­ued writing the character of the depression surprised me by having some positive aspects, allowing my character to say things that she would never usually say and do things.”

Crime writer Denise Mina said: “I’ve always thought that suicide is a momentary impulse, not a meaningful statement, and the world is full of people who didn’t do it and are living in the afterwards. Years ago someone told me that a concentration camp inmate stopped someone from committing suicide by saying that if they ran for the wire and got shot they would never find out how their story ended. I started thinking about anti-semitism and how much people must have internalised that, the defiance it must have taken just to live every day when the whole visible world speaks against you. Takes guts to walk into afterwards.”

  • If you’re experiencing difficulty in your life and would like to talk to someone, then phone Breathing Space on 0800 83 85 87 or visit
  • There is a self-help section at Shetland Library know as “Help your self to Health”. For more information on this please feel free to pop into the Library at Hillhead for a chat.


I keep sending these messages out into the deep blackness of space.

(No one could call it an exact science.)

A radio telescope with an ear to the universe
an expectant listener surfing outside stations.

They once said, there was life on Mars
that Venus has a moon covered in frozen oceans –

where a kaleidoscope of alien fish swim
warming themselves above volcanic geysers.

One day out walking along the seashore
my old ruffian dog biting chunks out of flood-tide foam.

We will come across a battered plastic bottle
inside a faded photograph wears an enigmatic smile –

and a note scribbled on the back, says “see you soon.”

James Sinclair

Two uniformed policemen filled our hall.
The blackness drained the colour from the walls
and they told Granny Davy killed himself
and all she said in one soft phrase was O.

I was a boy when Grandpa died and O
meant he was hard to like and he was dead
and later when they said on his death bed
he cried to get the guns up to the front
some forty-five years late then I said O.

And all the lovers I would take said O
and so did I. O never meant a promise,
its future to anticipate the past.

O? my mother used to say until the day
when no tried forming negatives of O.

From a tunnel of love by Gordon Dargie

Text for the day
On National Breathing Space Day,
we inhale the life of words,
employing for our oxygen expressions that
we’ve heard somewhere outside the Library,
a mist of nouns and verbs
circling round us near the Town Hall
or where feet might converge,
avoiding cracks upon the pavement,
staying safely on the kerb.

On National Breathing Space Day,
we exhale all we’ve read,
allowing texts we normally keep confined to
spin out from our heads
and accompany us while driving
through Voxter, Sandwick, Skeld,
till we reach our homesteads safely
through every journey’s twists and swerves,
hoping that in the bleak mid-winter
both brake and nerve have held.

Donald S Murray


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