By Alex MacDonald
I first visited the Northern Isles in 2012, following in the footsteps of my ‘herring girl’ grandmother. I was keen to explore the places she had told me about, and wanted to understand the connections between the island communities. It was during these travels that I began to wonder if the decline in the older industries which once linked us all, such as fishing, had perhaps affected more than just our economies.
I kept in touch with colleagues in Orkney and Shetland. Opportunities to collaborate, however, seemed rare. Rather than finding that modern life had increased our interaction, I began to see that previous generations had enjoyed more opportunity to work together. From here Between Islands was born.
The project pioneers were songwriters Kris Drever (Orkney), Arthur Nicholson, (Shetland) and Willie Campbell (Lewis). In 2014 they were commissioned by An Lanntair to do reciprocal residencies with the aim of co-writing new material. The resulting concert opened in Stornoway in July 2015, before travelling to Stromness and Lerwick. Their success made it clear that further collaborations should be encouraged.
So, with the creation of new work very much in mind, this year’s Between Islands focused on stories, with Kevin MacNeil (Lewis), Roseanne Watt (Shetland) and Alison Miller (Orkney) selected to launch a pilot writing project. The remit was simple: create a short story based on the connections between the three islands.
With each author working individually and in different locations, it appeared at first that there would be little opportunity for collaboration. Whereas, in fact, the conditions created an environment of lively discussion. Local museums and libraries offered up their archives for research, an activity the writers found an enjoyable part of the process. So too was the shared exploration of the three island’s dialects and languages. New connections were made and new work was created, just like in the music project.
Between Islands is dedicated to exploring common bonds by encouraging collaboration in many forms. Equally important is our wish to celebrate and promote island talent. An Lanntair hopes to start work on a second short story collection later this year and will be seeking expressions of interest from those who might want to take part.
Alex Macdonald is Head of Performing Arts at An Lanntair. The Between Islands short story collection was funded though Bealach, An Lanntair’s Creative Places Award, and published on 4 June 2016. Copies are available from stockists throughout the islands, including An Lanntair, Shetland Times Bookshop, The Orcadian Bookshop, and Stromness Books and Prints. For more information on Between Islands, or to find out how to submit work for the 2017 publication, send Alex an email firstname.lastname@example.org