Writing the North was launched at the University of Edinburgh with a day workshop on Orkney literature, linking the Pentland Firth with the Pentland Hills. In a panel on early nineteenth-century novels, Anthony Mandal spoke about how Mary Brunton’s early life on Orkney might have had an effect on ideas of travel in her later work, and Alison Lumsden discussed Scott’s The Pirate in relation to history and the Clearances. In a panel on antiquarians, Sarah Jane Gibbon told us about the far-sighted work of J. Storer Clouston and Penny Fielding discussed the narrative techniques of Walter Trail Dennison. Timothy Baker spoke about Orkney as an imaginary or spiritual location in the poetry of Edwin Muir, and Linden Bicket gave a paper on George Mackay Brown’s poetic Catholicism. Paul Barnaby told us about the rich manuscript holdings of Orkney and Shetland material in the Edinburgh University library (including a copy of The Radio Times ‘annotated’ by George Mackay Brown) and Alan Riach gave a talk on the way Scottish archipelagos can invoke ideas about democracy.
The four Orkney poets who are working with Writing the North to produce new writing in response to the history of North Islands culture read and talked about their work and their experiences writing on and about Orkney. In a very engaging session we heard poems from Pamela Beasant, Yvonne Gray and Morag MacInnes and a section from a new novel by Alison Miller.
The most important part of Pentland Crossings was that writers, researchers and readers could get together at this public event, and we had a lively and stimulating discussion throughout the day in which everyone could learn from each other.