I’m two issues into editing Northwords Now and the time has come to start myself a ‘blog’. This is something I promised myself (and others) back In January. The good folk at The Open University (one of my other employers – God bless ‘em all!) have now provided me with a way into the blogosphere so there’s no excuse.
Where to start? I have a hunch that enough words have been expended on descriptions of snow and ice of late, so that’s out of the question. There are funding applications that need writing, but making such things ‘blog-sexy’ (does this term exist?) is too much of a challenge. So let’s begin with St Kilda.
I have never been to St Kilda, though I’d like to. I know it’s the outermost of the Outer Hebrides, home to vast number of birds (as well as sheep and the genetically distinct St Kildan mouse). I also know that the last indigenous St Kildans left in the 1930s, when illness and poverty and the dwindling population finally put paid to the community. But, like a lot of folk, I find it hard to separate knowledge from myth when it comes to St Kilda. It’s too easy to romanticise not only St Kilda as remnant of unspoilt wilderness, but also St Kilda as the last vestige of a bygone self-sufficient pre-modern way of life. That why I’ve decided Northwords Now Spring issue is going to make a bit of a fuss about St Kilda. I don’t want to put a hatchet to the myth – the way we think about places will always as much to the imagination as it does to ‘objective’ history. But I do want to refresh our vision of St Kilda, to make sure that the ‘romance’ of place doesn’t become a timeworn cliché. With this in mind, I’ve persuaded Ian Stephen and John A Love to write about St Kilda from the vantage point of now. Ian will brings the art of the story-teller and poet to the experience of place; John’s time with Scottish Natural Heritage as Area Officer for the Hebrides (as well as his gifts as a nature writer) mean that what he doesn’t know about the wildlife of St Kilda probably isn’t worth knowing. Actually it probably is worth knowing; scientists and writers know there is never an end to understanding.
All I need to do is start searching around for pictures to accompany the words. I have to admit that this feels more like play than work. For the cover issue of 16 I came across a wonderful 1930s painting by David Cameron (not the prime minister) of the mountains of Assynt. For issue 17 I’d like to feature work by a current artist. I’ve already found a few on the net but I’ll be scouring gallery websites for a while yet. I suppose there’s a certain incongruity here – I’m sitting in a centrally heated 1970s house, staring at a computer screen for digital images of a place where, until very recently, a three point plug would have seemed bizarrely out of place. I guess that’s the nature of much modern life. Our fingers skim over keyboards, our eyes flit across screens, while all the time out heads may be full of nothing but wind and rain, sea and rock.