Writing the North at the Storytelling Centre


We’re delighted to be teaming up with the Scottish Poetry Library and the Scottish Storytelling Centre for the Edinburgh launch of the Writing the North book of poetry, Archipelagos.  Many of the poets who worked on the project’s Creative Partnerships to produce new work in response to older Orkney and Shetland writing will be there, and they will read and talk about their work.  You can find out more about this aspect of the Writing the North project, and how the partnerships worked, on this website: http://www.writingthenorth.com/the-dialogues/

We will also have music from Fair Isle musician Inge Thomson. We’re particularly thrilled that Inge will be able to perform with us. Her sister, the wonderful poet and musician Lise Sinclair, was a part of Writing the North from its earliest phase and performed at our original event, ‘Between Leith and Lerwick’.  Tragically, Lise died during the project, and this event, as well as the Archipelagos book,  is dedicated to her memory. …read more >>

Orkney and Shetland Dialect in Schools


Guest post by Simon Hall

Education Scotland, Scotland’s national improvement agency for education, has appointed four Scots Language Coordinators to work with Local Authorities across the country, helping schools and teachers to develop their capacity and skills in teaching Scots Language, including the dialects of Orkney and Shetland.

The coordinators aim to raise the profile and the status of Scots in our schools. Studying Scotland – its history, culture, literature and languages – is a key part of Curriculum for Excellence, and the coordinators will work to promote Scots in all its rich varieties, including the dialects spoken in the Northern Isles and Caithness, through the Doric areas of the North East, to the Scots spoken in Scotland’s cities, in the Central Belt, and in southern Lowland areas such as Borders, Dumfries and Galloway.

The Coordinators themselves come from a range of different areas and backgrounds, and there is a strong Northern Isles presence in the group. Bruce Eunson is from Shetland, where he was formerly Shetland Dialect development officer. Diane Anderson is from the North East, and was until recently a Principal Teacher of English in Dundee. Simon Hall has also been a Principal Teacher of English in Orkney, while Katrina Lucas is a primary teacher from Falkirk with special expertise in Scots.

The appointment of the coordinators coincides with the Scottish Qualifications Authority’s launch of a new suite of Awards in Scots language, and the coordinators are already involved in supporting schools delivering these new Awards.

With 1.5 million people reporting in the 2011 census that they use and understand Scots, it seems that this cultural treasure is alive and well. The continued development of Scots language education will no doubt be welcomed in Scots-speaking heartlands such as Orkney and Shetland.


Rashy Bulder Efter Rashy Bulder: Orkney Dialect Handed Down

Guest post by Alison Miller

A year or so before he died my uncle told me of a piece of Orkney dialect that had tickled his father, my grandfather, who had preserved it intact. My uncle told me the circumstances in which it was uttered: a man from a farm near Viewfield where my grandfather was a dairy farmer came by one day. He may have been looking for peats. He delivered the piece of language my grandfather kept. …read more >>

Celebrating the Writing of Orkney and Shetland



Join us at the Shetland Museum and Archives to celebrate the end of the project and find out more about Orkney and Shetland writing past and present. On 10th May we are holding a day of talks and readings, showcasing the work of the Writing the North project.   Come for the whole day, or just drop in to whatever you like.

2.00pm – Walter Scott’s Tour to Orkney and Shetland, with Professor Penny Fielding and Professor Alison Lumsden

2.45pm – George Mackay Brown and Orkney Literature, with Dr Linden Bicket

3.30pm – Language and Dialect in Orkney and Shetland Writing.  Panel discussion with speakers. Chaired by Dr Mark Smith

7.00 pm – Poetry from Writing the North

A poetry reading of all the new work from the project, introduced by the poets themselves.  Authors include: Pam Beasant, Yvonne Gray, Robert Alan Jamieson, Morag MacInnes, Jim Mainland, Alison Miller and Raman Mundair.

This event showcases new works from Orkney and Shetland writers and gives an insight into the creative process. Members of the Writing the North team will discuss earlier writing from the islands and show how it is important and inspirational for writing today.

This is a free event, but please reserve your ticket at Shetland Museum and Archives reception, or by calling 01595 741562.

Jamieson, De Luca, and the North

Guest post by Michael Stachura

“Neither the Shetlands nor the Orkneys […] have yet had poets of any worth […].” So says Hugh MacDiarmid in The Islands of Scotland (1939). It’s an obviously provocative statement, but MacDiarmid used provocation in an attempt to rouse Scotland (and its Isles) out of what he saw as a parochial and underdeveloped cultural context. MacDiarmid is not talking here in general terms about poets who come from the Northern Isles, but about those poets not utilizing the Isles’ distinct cultural and linguistic heritage. …read more >>

The Shetland Pamphlet War of 1804-06

Guest post by Pam Perkins

The Edinburgh botanist Patrick Neill didn’t make many friends as a result of his journey to Shetland in 1804.   It was a relatively brief visit:  he arrived in Lerwick on the morning of 26 August and left again on 6 September, after touring Bressay, Yell, and Unst, as well as the mainland.  The fact that he chose to publish an account of the history, botany, culture, and economy of Shetland (first in a series of articles in The Scots Magazine and then as a book) after spending less than two weeks in the islands might not have been a problem in itself, but his harsh criticism of the economic system touched a nerve and placed Neill at centre of one of the more lively pamphlet wars of the era. …read more >>

Reading Orkney and Shetland Writing: The Dialogues


During the first part of the project, Writing the North has been exploring Orkney and Shetland literature in the form of  conversations between academic researchers and creative writers.  We started with a series of short pieces and extracts from the early nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth.  We wanted to explore both island writing and the experiences of visitors so we chose a selection of different material from Walter Scott’s novel The Pirate–one of the most popular of the nineteenth century–to the almost unknown poet Margaret Chalmers.  We’ve been looking at novels, short stories, poetry and history. …read more >>

Reading Margaret Chalmers

Guest post by Fiona Piercy

If someone had told me a year ago, when I started a class on 18th century poetry, that I’d go on to write my undergraduate dissertation on the subject I wouldn’t have believed them. Filled with political satire and classical allusions studying poetry of the 18th century seemed a daunting task to undertake. However, nestled amongst the canonical greats, such as Pope and Burns, that dominated the class’ reading list was a poet I’d never heard of: Margaret Chalmers. …read more >>

Rediscovering Robert Rendall

Guest post by Simon Hall

The Orkney poet Robert Rendall (1898-1967) loved European travel almost as much as he loved his home islands. The antithesis of the parochial islander, he travelled extensively, sampling the cultures of Germany, France and Switzerland. He made no fewer than nine trips to Italy, and it was on one of these visits that he and a travelling companion stood on the Palatine Hill, surveying the glories of the city of Rome. ‘Hid’s bonny’, conceded the poet, ‘but hid’s no a petch on Birsay!’ …read more >>