The Literature of
Orkney and Shetland

Burnt Island

Burnt Island

Novelist Alice Thomson writes about the influence of Shetland on her new novel, Burnt Island.

When I  was Writer in Residence for Shetland in the mid-nineties, the towering rock formations of the North West of Shetland mainland and the gentler, smoother beaches of the South, such as St Ninian’s Isle, seemed to represent the totality of visual experience. From the most sublime and wild to the most subtly undulating, the undying light and surrounding sea gave a metaphysical dimension to Shetland.

The landscape of Shetland completely informed the writing of Burnt Island. The novel is about the conflict between thought and the material world and the astounding physical reality of Shetland is the reality of Burnt Island. “Such was his arrogance , he had thought he could shape the island. When, really, Burnt Island, in the end had shaped him in its image.”

Burnt Island is about place, about how nature informs our vision of the world and how, in the end, we are just as transient as the changing  colours of the sky. Without Shetland, I would never have written Burnt Island.

Burnt Island is the story of a struggling writer  who comes to Burnt Island on a fellowship. He attempts to sell out by writing a horror novel. He gets writer’s block and then horrific things start happening on the island, as if the horror novel he is trying to write is coming alive. Alice is a former winner of the James Tait Black prize for fiction and the author of six novels.

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