Prestigious literary fellowship for Shetland-based writer
Author and Shetland Times columnist Donald Murray has been awarded the prestigious Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship.
The award will give Mr Murray, originally from Lewis, “time and space” to write and think while he works on a number of pieces he has in the pipeline.
It is designed to take writers away from their usual environment to develop their work.
Mr Murray is one of three writers who will be free to spend a month in a self-catering studio apartment at the Hôtel Chevillon in Grez-sur-Loing, at the edge of France’s Forest of Fontainebleau.
The location is of special significance for the fellowship. It was first visited by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1875, who found the place and its community of writers and artists highly attractive.
He met his future wife Fanny Osbourne there, and returned there for three consecutive summers.
Mr Murray said he was delighted by the news – not least because it was previously awarded to two of his former school students, Iain Finlay Macleod and Niall Campbell.
“It is a delight for this teacher to be following in his pupils’ footsteps. Who knows where they might go in future?” he said.
Mr Murray hopes to use his time in France to develop an idea for a novel, which is loosely based upon a raid carried out by his fellow Ness-men in Lewis on that other Ness, in the South Mainland of Shetland.
The work draws upon Gaelic, Norse and Greek mythology as it follows the misadventures of a few survivors from a battle near the Spiggie Loch as they head for home.
He also hopes to research the basis of a novel on the Shetland Bus story. That should complete his trilogy of island books, which started with The Guga Hunters, written about the much sought-after seabird delicacy in his native Ness. Next was And On This Rock – a book about the Italian Chapel in Orkney.
“Finally, if I have time, I hope to visit a few scenes in the life of a man born in Howmore, South Uist, who later grew up to be a Marshall in Napoleon Bonaparte’s army. My location will help in this. I will be spending a month in the Hôtel Chevillon in Grez-sur-Loing near Napoleon’s main palace, the Chateau Fountainbleau. Clearly, I’m looking forward to going there.
“There are a lot of people I have to thank for this, especially my friend and collaborator, the artist Doug Robertson, Andrew Jennings of Shetland College, who helped put flesh on an idea and Donald Anderson and his predecessor as literature development officer at Shetland Arts, Alex Cluness. Both gave me a sense of my own possibilities.”
Mr Murray’s past works have included both poetry and fiction.
His collection of short stories Special Deliverance was shortlisted for a Saltire Award in 1998.
His pamphlet West Coasters was also shortlisted for a national award, the Calum MacDonald Memorial Prize.
A second pamphlet Between Minch and Muckle Flugga appeared in 2005, and a new volume Speak to us Catriona: new tales and traditions of the Lews in 2007.
He has also written many articles and stories for newspapers, magazines and journals such as the West Highland Free Press and The Stornoway Gazette and others.
He has delivered talks about Scotland’s most westerly island (St Kilda) in Scotland’s most north-western area (Ness); its most north-eastern area (Shetland); its most south-westerly corner (Gatehouse of Fleet, Dumfries and Galloway); and Ireland’s south-western edge (the Blasket Centre, Dunquin, County Kerry).