Friday, 26 April 2013

BBC Blog on GMB Stories

The Orkney Reader in Residence was asked by the BBC to write a blog post to accompany the three GMB stories to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 from this Sunday for the next three Sundays. You can read it by clicking on the link above. And you can find your way to the stories by clicking on the GMB stories link.

"It is the word blossoming as legend, story, poem, secret that holds a community together and gives a meaning to its life." 

George Mackay Brown, 1969,  An Orkney Tapestry

The picture of George Mackay Brown here is one that I stumbled upon among the work of a pavement artist when I returned to Glasgow after starting the Reader in Residence post in Orkney.

My family bought it for me and I'm looking forward to getting it framed and bringing it 'home' to Orkney. 

Tune in to the stories starting this Sunday. They are well worth listening to.

The first one is The Wireless Set due to be broadcast:

Sunday 28 April 
7.45 pm 
BBC Radio 4

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Three George Mackay Brown Stories

GMB on the street in Stromness
BBC Radio Four will broadcast three stories of George Mackay Brown on the following three Sundays.       The first one, The Wireless Set will go out this Sunday at 7.45 pm.

Produced and directed by Kirsteen Cameron, the story is described on the website: 

... set in 1939, a couple are bemused by their son's gift of a wireless set, but when he leaves the small island community for service in the Navy, they and their neighbours keep a close ear upon the news it brings of the war's progress. 

Kirsteen Cameron BBC
The full list and dates of stories to be broadcast on 
BBC Radio Four are:

The Wireless Set - Sunday 28 April 7.45pm

The Five of Spades - Sunday 5 May 7.45pm

The Masked Fisherman - Sunday 12 May 7.45pm

There is something very satisfying about having a story read to you and it must be many years since George Mackay Brown's stories have been broadcast. So it is to Kirsteen Cameron's credit that she has decided to bring these three stories to life on the airwaves.

At the heart of Orkney's literary community, George Mackay Brown lives on in the work of the George Mackay Brown Fellowship which was set up to promote writing in Orkney and bring new authors to the attention of the Orkney reading public.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Robert Rendall, Orkney Poet

The handsome volume on the left, Robert Rendall Collected Poems, contains a unique collection of the work of Robert Rendall, one of Orkney's most interesting literary characters.

In his day job he was a draper and worked in the family shop Rendall's on the corner of Albert Street and Bridge Street in Kirkwall. (Now Grooves music shop, this is where the book was launched at the end of last year.)

But in his time off, Robert Rendall was one of those remarkable self-taught Orcadians who wrote poetry, criticism and essays; painted in watercolour; studied Orkney's shores and discovered new species. One shell he was the first to identify looks like a butter curl! I found one in Stronsay once on the Rothiesholm sands.

Orkney Book Festival has had the chance this year to celebrate and honour Robert Rendall with an event to present his poems - well known and unpublished - to a new audience and readership.

It was Brian Murray and John Flett Brown who did the painstaking work of scholarship and editing to gather all the poems together into this one volume. John Brown is away, but Brian Murray will introduce the poet and a handful of Orkney Readers will read the poems.

Brian Murray on Robert Rendall
Orkney Library & Archive
Saturday 13 April
4.00-5.00 pm

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Blue Black Permanent, Film & Poetry

A rare opportunity to see Margaret Tait's feature film, Blue Black Permanent on the big screen tomorrow night.

Westside Cinema
Stromness Town Hall
7.30 pm
Thursday 11 April

Not only is it a rare opportunity to see the film, but there is a unique chance to see its star, Gerda Stevenson, in conversation, after the screening with Sarah Neely and Sarah Forrest, the first recipient of the Margaret Tait Residency.

Sarah Forrest's short film that now, made as part of her residency, will be shown alongside Blue Black Permanent.

On Friday night Dr Sarah Neely will deliver the George Mackay Brown Memorial Lecture.

GMB Memorial Lecture
Margaret Tait: filmmaker & writer
Pier Arts Centre
7.00 pm
Friday 12 April 

Sarah's lecture will be illustrated with some of the films of Margaret Tait along with readings of some of her poetry.

Margaret Tait: Film Poet, commissioned by Glasgow Women's Library and made by Marissa Keating and Michael Thomas Jones will be shown in the Pier Arts Centre after the lecture. 

Margaret Tait: Film Poet
Pier Arts Centre
Friday 12 April
After the GMB Lecture

Seriously Sassy & Seriously Funny

There's a thread that runs through Magi Gibson's work linking the lives of girls and women from Seriously Sassy young teen to Wild, Wild Woman!

As Maggi Gibson, children's author, she will present the prizes to the Young Writers who have gripped her most in their poems about Adventure. 

2.00 pm Orkney Library & Archive

And she will also be doing an interactive reading from her Seriously Sassy series of books for young teens - 2.30 pm Orkney Library & Archive 

Suitable for boys and girls, the books feature the adventures of Sassy Wilde, who harbours not so secret ambitions to be a pop star and is also passionate about saving the planet. She has a gang of best friends too and you can read about them here.

And on Sunday evening, 14 April 7.30 pm, in the Stromness Hotel for Bemused Magi will shed a 'g' and read from her poetry collections, Graffiti in Red Lipstick and Wild Women of a Certain Age.

The Scotsman said of her Wild Women:
'A collection for anyone who imagines that sensitively wrought lyric poetry cannot also be tough and pungent.' 

Seriously Funny/Funnily Serious

Ian MacPherson is a comedian and writer who penned the hilarious The Autobiography of Ireland's Greatest Living Genius by Fiachra MacFiach

(Don't try and say that name with your mouth full of scone!) 

He will be reading from this and other work at: 

Sunday 14 April 
7.30 pm
the Stromness Hotel.

And on Sunday afternoon, Ian will offer Orkney writers the chance to learn from him how to write funny. Seriously!

Comedy Writing Workshop
2.00-4.00 pm
Stromness Library

To sign up for Ian's workshop please contact:

And come along to the readings - they will be fabulous!

Be there or be a sad excuse for a festival-goer!

Tickets at the door.

Or get your Whole Festival Pass from Orkney Library. £20 gets you into all the events

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

John Rae at Orkney Book Festival

This year is the bicentenary of John Rae's birth and many events are planned throughout the year to commemorate him and his achievements in the Arctic.

Struan Sinclair is coming over from the University of Manitoba to give a talk about John Rae and the Canadian connection.

His is a homecoming of sorts, because Struan spent a spell in Orkney as a Writing Fellow some years ago and has many folk here who remember the time they spent with him talking about their writing.

And Bryce Wilson, a weel kent son of Stromness, will be telling us about Rae's connection with the town and giving us a preview of his forthcoming book. 

John Rae's Arctic adventures are dear to the hearts of the people of Orkney. And there is a strong sense locally of the injustice done to him by polite society in London when he returned to tell the story of the fate of the Franklin expedition. Even Charles Dickens joined in the howl of outrage at the suggestion that starving Englishmen could have engaged in cannibalism in their desperation to survive.

John Rae respected and listened to the Inuit people he met and learned survival strategies from them. It was his understanding of and sympathy with these 'ignorant savages,' as they were believed to be, that earned him the hatred of the ruling elite in the capital.

But come and hear the full story from the experts.

Struan Sinclair
John Rae in Canada
11.30 am 
Saturday 13 April
Orkney Library & Archive

Bryce Wilson
Stromness and John Rae
11.00 am
Sunday 14 April
Stromness Library

There is also a fascinating exhibition about John Rae in Stromness Museum. Why not take that in too!

A Festival of Many Delights

Like this gem of an exhibition put together by Sarah Maclean of Orkney Archives. 

It features a small selection of the many items in the Margaret Tait Archive. Notebooks, letters, photographs, international driving permit - all the elements that chart a life.

Particularly pleasing are the cards and notes from Gunnie Moberg, whose archive has recently been acquired by Orkney Library & Archive. In her generous cursive script she asks permission to photograph Margaret Tait. 

There are also short notes about the sale of her books. But these notes take on a greater significance when you read the signature: one set comes from Edwin Morgan, Scotland's late, great Makar.

Drop in to the Orkney Library & Archive on the first floor and take a look at this bijou exhibition. 

And then take in the other Margaret Tait events in Orkney Book Festival!

Monday, 8 April 2013

A Reminder of the Orkney Book Festival Programme

This is the full programme of 
the second Orkney Book Festival.

Get your Festival Pass from Orkney Archive. 
For £20 it gets you into all the festival events. 
With it you also receive a year's membership of 
the George Mackay Brown Fellowship.

And check out the exhibition of Margaret Tait memorabilia in the Orkney Archive.

Thursday, 4 April 2013



Orkney Book Festival

11-14 April 2013
The second Orkney Book Festival features writers and speakers from Canada, Scotland and Orkney. The Festival celebrates Orkney filmmaker and writer Margaret Tait, and the bi-centenary of Arctic explorer John Rae as part of the year-long programme of events, John Rae 200.
Events include film nights, a book fair, readings and workshops, the results of the second Young Orkney Writers’ Prize, and the annual George Mackay Brown Memorial Lecture. This year’s featured writers are:
Struan Sinclair novelist and academic from the University of Manitoba, Canada; Orkney Writing Fellowship Resident in 2004
Magi Gibson poet and writer for adults and children, current Reader-in Residence at Glasgow Women’s Library
Ian Macpherson acclaimed comedian, performer and writer for adults and children
Gerda Stevenson actor, musician and poet, who starred in Margaret Tait’s only feature film, Blue Black Permanent
Sarah Neely from Stirling University, editor of Margaret Tait: Poetry, Writings, Stories, who will deliver the GMB Memorial Lecture
Sarah Forrest filmmaker and first holder of the Margaret Tait residency at the Pier Arts Centre, attending courtesy of the Glasgow Film Festival 
Alison Miller novelist and current Reader-in-Residence at Orkney Library & Archive
Brian Murray writer and co-editor of many books by George Mackay Brown, and of Robert Rendall: Collected Poems
John Flett Brown Geologist, and co-editor of Robert Rendall: Collected Poems
Bryce Wilson Orcadian writer and historian, whose forthcoming book on the history of Stromness Harbour will be published later this year
Entry to all events is £5 (£4 concessions), payable at the door, except for Friday evening's event at the Pier Arts Centre (see below), for which booking is essential. Please telephone 01856 850209.
There will be a book fair at Orkney Library and Archive on Friday 12 and Saturday 13 April. Local publishers and booksellers are welcome to display and/or sell their books. To book a space, please contact Lucy Gibbon at Orkney Library & Archive,

Thursday 11 April
7.30pm    Film night    West Side Cinema
That Now by Sarah Forrest, first Margaret Tait Resident 
Blue Black Permanent by Margaret Tait, introduced by Sarah Neely
Followed by discussion with actor Gerda Stevenson, filmmaker Sarah Forrest and writer Sarah Neely
Friday 12 April Orkney Library and Archive
12-5pm    Book Fair      
including local booksellers, publishers, and a special exhibition of Margaret Tait material from the Archive
2pm          Young Orkney Writers’ Prize     
2.30-4.00 Seriously Sassy               
Session for young people with Maggi Gibson

Friday 12 April Pier Arts Centre, Stromness
(booking essential, please phone 01856 850209)
7pm        GMB Memorial Lecture  
Margaret Tait: filmmaker and writer
Dr Sarah Neely, including short films by Margaret Tait
Followed by
Margaret Tait: Film Poet, by Marissa Keating and Michael Thomas Jones, commissioned by the Glasgow Women’s Library
Introduced by Magi Gibson, and a selection of readings and short films by Margaret Tait, from the Pier Arts Centre collection.
Saturday 13 April Orkney Library & Archive
9.30-5     Book fair 
10.30       Beating the Blues Various Orkney Writers                            
11.30am  John Rae in Canada                 
Struan Sinclair, University of Manitoba
2pm  Books that changed our lives        
Magi Gibson and Alison Miller
4pm          Brian Murray and John Flett Brown                           
on Robert Rendall, with Orkney readers

Saturday 13 April Kirkwall Hotel
7.30pm    Readings with music                
Struan Sinclair, Gerda Stevenson, Alison Miller, hosted by Ian Macpherson

Sunday 14 April Stromness Library
11-12        Stromness and John Rae        
                  Bryce Wilson
2-4pm       Workshop – comedy writing        
                  Ian Macpherson
Sunday 14 April Stromness Hotel
7.30pm      Bemused                                   
                  A special evening with Ian Macpherson and Magi Gibson

The Orkney Book Festival is run by the George Mackay Brown Fellowship, funded by Creative Scotland, with the support of Orkney Library and Archive, Reader-in-Residence, the Pier Arts Centre, West Side Cinema, and the Glasgow Women’s Library. The support of the Glasgow Film Festival and the British Film Institute is also gratefully acknowledged.


Orkney Book Festival kicks off one week tonight with Margaret Tait's film, Blue Black Permanent to be shown in Stromness Town Hall by Westside Cinema. See below for details.

THU 11 APRIL 'Blue Black Permanent' (PG)
plus Q + A with lead actress GERDA STEVENSON

Orkney Book Festival


Margaret Tait's debut feature from 1992.
Gerda Stevenson
7:30 doors for a 7:45 start.
£5/£4 concessions (school age children free). Bring your own refreshments.

'A haunting and magical film about a daughter’s attempts to come to terms with her mother’s mysterious death, not only through examining her own childhood memories but also going back further in time, to tales of her mother’s own childhood. With an allusive structure filled with flashbacks and dreams, this is a delicate and poetic work of intense emotion'. —

Gerda Stevenson received a Scottish BAFTA Best Film Actress Award for her performance in the film and we are delighted to welcome her to the screening in conversation with Dr. Sarah Neely, author of  Margaret Tait: Poetry, Writings, Stories.

Supported by the short film

'that now'

by Sarah Forrest
An artist's film made in response to a six week Margaret Tait residency in Orkney. Sarah will also be in attendance to introduce her film.