Notes for a Dictionary of Walking the Fingers by Dan Byam Shaw

By Wasafiri Editor on March 2, 2023 in Fiction

Wasafiri is pleased to publish the pieces shortlisted for the 2022 Queen Mary Wasafiri New Writing Prize. The poems, essays, and short stories in this series showcase the best new writing from the best new writers across the globe – in all their diversity and complexity. In this innovative and ‘clearly incomplete’ work of fiction, Dan Byam Shaw composes a dictionary of a landscape.

The 2023 Queen Mary Wasafiri New Writing Prize is open for submissions until 30 June 2023. You can read the full terms and conditions and submit here.

Editor’s note:  

This manuscript was found last November in the marshland known colloquially as ‘The Fingers’ (many years ago, there was a golf course on this location – the ‘fingers’ are the remnants of the fairways). It was written in a careful, cursive hand, and, though clearly incomplete, is presented here with only a minimum of necessary corrections. The identity and fate of its author, despite widespread speculation, remain uncertain.    


mulpit     n. still, deep pool of water at the bend of a river, as caused by a fallen oak tree 

outgarn     n. feeling of unfolding possibility experienced at the beginning of a walk 

fodgy     adj. used of mud that is too slippery to provide adequate traction yet simultaneously viscous enough to cling heavily to your boots  

brunlock     n. bog with apparently firm surface but containing water trapped beneath (the kind your mother warned you about) 

bollowed     adj. sucked down into a bog or marsh (a contraction of ‘bog swallowed’) 

steeple     v. to navigate by way of manmade landmarks (e.g. church towers, pylons) 

skivvet      v. to bounce through the air as certain birds (e.g. sparrows, redpolls) do 

corduroy-cut     v. to walk across a recently ploughed field at a perpendicular to the direction of the furrow 

felchous     adj. used of mud that makes a sucking sound when you pull your boot out of it 

witchet     n. row of hazel trees once used for cutting wands but now largely neglected 

greap     n. ditch or stream that is almost – but not quite – narrow enough to jump across without getting your shoes wet 

orlette     n. makeshift bridge made of a large branch laid across a stream 

wonderlost     n. the pleasant feeling of not knowing quite where you are but being nevertheless confident that you will see somewhere you recognise soon 

ligatee     n. dead tree giving striking impression of lignified lightning 

sinnal     n. ripple-like groove found in the bark of certain older trees (e.g. poplar, lime) 

backfoot     v. to retrace your footsteps in reverse on the return leg of a walk 

ungter     n. satisfying feeling of well-earnt hunger that arises towards the end of a day 

talding     n. shadow cast by the raised edges of a footprint onto the small puddle contained within (only seen soon after dawn and shortly before dark) 

daredriff     n. the unexplained urge to take a risk (e.g. jumping a greap, crossing a brunlock) 

settlefell     n. the sudden realisation that you have made a huge mistake (derived from the Anglo-Saxon for ‘sinking feeling’) 

slunge     v. to sink slowly but irredeemably, despite great exertion  

marsh hair     n. projecting tufts of bog cotton, evoking the top of a sunken human head 


Dan Byam Shaw was a primary school teacher in London for several years, before completing a master’s in Creative Writing at Birkbeck. He currently works for Lighthouse Relief, an NGO in Greece, and writes on travel, nature and forced migration. ‘Notes for a Dictionary on Walking the Fingers’ is his first story.

The 2023 Queen Mary Wasafiri New Writing Prize is open for submissions until 30 June 2023. Submit here.

Photo by S Mazzikim on Unsplash