By RYAN TAYLOR
At da very start da Göd Man med da heevens an da aert. Da aert hed nae shape tae it an dir wis naethin in it. Hit was joost a mass o watter happit aboot i da mirk. Da speerit o da Göd Man gied aboot apo da watter.
So begins the book of Genesis, as recorded by Church of Scotland minister Charles Greig, who has combined his knowledge of the good book with his passion for Shetland dialect to create a selection of Bible stories with a distinctive local accent.
The Sandwick minister has spent much of his time compiling his favourite passages from both the Old and New Testaments and translating them into da midder tongue.
But while his pet project started out as a hobby, it was soon pounced upon by colleagues from the Kirk’s head office in Edinburgh, who encouraged him to develop his writings and put them into print.
Now plans are underway to launch The Shetland Bible, with up to 81 passages translated into Shetland onto bookshelves across the land by the end of the year.
“I started doing it a couple of years ago. At the Church of Scotland we get the opportunity to take study leave. Two years ago I took a fortnight off, and last year I did the same, and translated Bible passages into Shetland dialect.
“We had a visit from one or two folk from head office, and just out of interest I gave the two of them a copy of my first writings, and somewhere along the line one of them passed it on to St Andrew Press, which is part of the Church of Scotland.”
The publisher later got in touch with Rev Greig, to ask if his project could be developed to incorporate a wider selection of translated verses in book form. Plans are also underway to develop a CD, for which Rev Greig will narrate some of the stories.
“They asked me to fill it out and do further work, and they suggested some further passages I could do,” he said.
Out of his selection, Rev Greig has many favourites, although he did point to his interpretation of 1st Corinthians 13 as a very popular request at weddings and funerals: Love aye taeks paece, an is aye göd. Love dusna worry aboot whit idders hae an it nivir draas attention tae itsel. It nivir pits itsel abön idders an nivir pits idders doon.
Other favourites include some of the Psalms, many of which Rev Grieg likes to think of as having a Shetland setting rather than the Middle East.
Loard, du sends wis da sun an da doontöm an da laand is rich an ready fir plants ta sproot. Da burns dance doon da hill an da grund haes nae want o göd watter. Da ploo’d rig looks fir da voar speets an da seeds tak hadd an da breer begins ta shaa. Aa simmer da haet o da sun an da weet bring da plants on an i da hairst da rigs lie ready fir da sye an spade; aa simmer lang an i da hairst da rigs lie green an gold. An iviry baest haes haelt an strent, an aa natir sings da praise o da Loard.
Although Rev Greig is pleased with his achievement, the pathway to completion has been almost as eventful as Saul’s trot along the road to Damascus.
His dedication to accurate proof reading and editing have forced him to call on the help of dialect experts Mary Blance and Laureen Johnson.
“The difficulty really has been in getting the dialect written. That’s almost impossible because so much of dialect is never written down, and that’s why I’ve approached Laureen and Mary.
“It’s really quite an exercise to produce anything in dialect, and consistency is hard to achieve. It’s terribly hard to edit, and very difficult getting everything right. It’s not an exercise to be taken lightly.”
That said, he was also hugely encouraged by his wife, Diane, as well as retired teacher Kate Steven from Dunrossness, and compiler of the second world war book, The Roll of Honour, Ian Jamieson.
The book will also feature illustrations from cartoonist Stephen Gordon, and Rev Greig said the drawings would play an integral part in bringing life to the book.
“Smirk is in the process of producing illustrations for it which are quite distinct and individual.”
While the book is written in dialect, Rev Greig said it was important for his work to be understood by as many people as possible.
“It’s easy to write something in such a way that nobody can understand it. We have to make it accessible, I think. Writing is about communicating, and if you’re not communicating it’s almost a waste of time. I hope what we do is accessible and engages with people.”
Rev Greig said his interest in the dialect has remained with him over the years, even when he headed south to university.
“One of the benefits of leaving Shetland – as I did when I went away to study – is that your young life in Shetland remains in a time warp, so you don’t lose it as maybe some folk who maybe continue to live in Shetland do. I’ve got to get back to the time warp to recall words and phrases.”