In 2007 Pamela Beasant was appointed as the first holder of the George Mackay Brown Creative Writing Fellowship. During her Fellowship year she was based in the building at 2 Hellihole Road that was Stromness Library from 1906 until 2015, close to George Mackay Brown’s house at Mayburn Court. With the Board of the GMB Fellowship and with other organisations and artists, she developed a wide range of events and projects. She worked regularly with writing groups in Stromness and Kirkwall, and visited the isles to facilitate writing projects there.
Seven Orkney writers: a reading
The GMB Fellowship hosted the Orkney launch of Riptide, an anthology of new writing from the Highlands and Islands, published in April 2007 by Two Ravens Press. The collection included seven writers living in Orkney who read at the event: Pam Beasant, Alison Flett, Yvonne Gray, Jo Lawson, John McGill, Fiona MacInnes and Morag MacInnes. Writer, editor and founding director of Two Ravens Press, Sharon Blackie, came to Orkney for the event which was held in the Upper Library in Stromness Academy.
Animated film project
In the first project of this sort in Orkney, Pam worked in association with artist Ali Gunn and composer Gemma McGregor on a film project at St Colm’s Day Centre and Laing Street Tuesday Club generated by adults with learning and/or physical disabilities. Based on the lives and experiences of the film-makers themselves, the films incorporated footage of the participants with two animations – Magical Westray Adventure, and Crocodile Dundee and the Evil Dinosaur Duck. A ‘red carpet’ premiere of the films took place at the New Phoenix Cinema, Kirkwall early in 2008.
St Magnus Festival The Johnsmas Foy: Four Green Miles
Four Green Miles, compiled, written and produced by Pam Beasant for the St Magnus Festival Johnsmas Foy, focused on Orkney’s most northerly island, North Ronaldsay. It was a large project, involving detailed research and the compilation of the script from the words of the islanders, the writing of linking narrations, and a new poem. A new piece of music, Svecia, was commissioned from musician and composer Douglas Montgomery and was one of the Festival’s world premieres.
The remaining 60 or so islanders have a rich past, but face an uncertain future, with very few children now living on the island. Four Green Miles celebrated this beautiful place, through the words of present and former islanders, in verse, song, story and film.
George Mackay Brown Memorial Lecture
The inaugural GMB Memorial Lecture was held on 12 April 2007, almost 11 years to the day since the writer’s death. It was given by Maggie Fergusson whose biography George Mackay Brown: the Life had been published by John Murray the previous year and had quickly gathered several awards. In her talk she described the painstaking research she had undertaken to gather the disparate strands of GMB’s life into her biography and the frustrations and rewards she experienced – the reluctance of her subject to speak about his work in detail, his warmth and hospitality, the fortuitous coming to light of detailed correspondence which helped to fill gaps in her research.
Writers’ Retreat, Hoy
The GMB Fellowship organised a two day residential writers’ retreat in the Hoy Outdoor Centre. Workshop leaders Janet MacInnes (a highly regarded story-teller and a previous Creative Writing Fellow in Orkney), Morag MacInnes, Yvonne Gray and Alison Flett led a range of workshops over the weekend and also provided individual mentoring sessions. There was a session on getting work into print and a display of poetry pamphlets. Two readings took place, one with guest writers John McGill, John Aberdein and Fiona MacInnes and the other, a reading of some of work that had arisen from the workshops.
Shore to Shore Festival
The Shore to Shore Literature Festival took place shortly after the Writers’ Retreat. Four of the Edinburgh Shore Poets, Diana Hendry, Christine De Luca, Andrew Philip and Ian McDonough arrived in Orkney and were joined by Laureen Johnson from Shetland, and Orkney writers Nigel Wheale, John McGill and Ron Ferguson for a weekend of public readings and music. Ten of the participants in the Hoy Writers’ Retreat also read their work – some for the first time in public – at various events. Diana Hendry and Ian McDonough gave public workshops over the weekend; Christine De Luca and Andy Philip gave schools workshops and read their work on BBC Radio Orkney’s arts programme, Tullimentan.
Publishing: A New Orkney Anthology and Our A-Z
A New Orkney Anthology was published in April 2008, featuring writing produced in workshops throughout the year from writers all over Orkney, including the north isles. Alongside the work of emerging authors are contributions from established writers based in Orkney and beyond, including the visiting Edinburgh poets, and a special commission from then Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, who visited Orkney for the first time in 2007.
Our A-Z was produced in the course of workshops with primary age children in Orkney Library and with the Stromness After-School Club. Featuring acrostics and haiku, the children explored a huge range of subject matter, from angels to zebra. A copy of the book was sent to every school in Orkney.