Shetland magazines nowadays are glossy full-colour affairs, and cover pictures play an important role in attracting customers. The cover of New Shetlander number 250, out on Friday, may catch the eye for the opposite reason. There are no pictures, and the only colour is a red border round a very plain-looking page of print. It is an attempt to replicate the style of the first issue, published at a time of post-war austerity 62 years ago.
It is quite a feat for any magazine to reach its 250th issue, especially a literary and cultural magazine; the New Shetlander’s longevity is a great Shetland achievement. In celebration, there are 12 extra pages in this issue, and the accompanying CD is a Radio Shetland archive recording of a programme about the founder and first editor, Peter Jamieson.
Many fine contributions also mark the occasion. There are two major historical articles. Gordon Johnston, in fine style, has re-created the atmosphere and many of the characters involved in a rebellious episode from 1887 Cunningsburgh, the Beolka Park fire, when the laird’s new fencing posts and wire were mysteriously consumed in a huge bonfire in the middle of the night.
Brian Smith contributes “On the nature of tings: Shetland’s law courts from the middle ages until 1611”. Here he discusses “tings” in Shetland, known and conjectured, what antiquarians have said about them and what contemporary documents reveal about the lawting and the rule of law at this time.
In her short piece of place-name research, Eileen Brooke-Freeman describes her search for two particular places in Shetland mentioned in the Sagas: Geitishellir and Geitishamar. She believes she has found them in Yell.
Six new short stories feature, led by John Cumming’s thought-provoking “Upstaander” and Jim Taylor’s “A history of spaceflight”, an intriguing picture of two unlikely intrepid travellers in the Australian outback. Barbara Fraser writes futuristic skyimp in “Da Sheep’s Fit Foy”, Donald Murray’s fairytale-like “Stoneware” is, like its subject, not what it seems at first sight! James Sinclair’s light-hearted story “Wrang turn at da Milky Wey” is a Yule fantasy written for fun.
The 2009 Young Writer of the Year in Shetland Library’s annual competition was Peter Ratter from Brae High School. Peter won the Dialect writer prize as well. His winning piece bears the name of the competition topic, “Da story on da stane”.
“Da wadder eye” looks at events at home and nationwide. Jennifer Perry interviews a recent visitor to Shetland, the writer Louis de Bernières, best known as the author of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. There are reviews of several books and a recent CD.
The poetry in this issue is excellent, headlined by two new poems by Stella Sutherland, one of Shetland’s foremost poets, who first featured in New Shetlander Number 5. Christine De Luca has been inspired by a recent stay in Burra, Robert Alan Jamieson by a heart-rending tale from the past and Jim Mainland by racism. There are also fine poems by Lynsey Anderson, Alex Cluness, Paolo Dante, Gordon Dargie, Morag MacInnes, Sheenagh Pugh, Margaret Sinclair and John Magnus Tait. Lisa Watt from Sound Primary School contributes her winning poem from a recent national competition.
Poignantly, the editorial reflects on the recent passing of Lollie Graham. He and his brother John gave so much of themselves to the New Shetlander that it will always be identified with them. Lollie left a wonderful legacy in his poems and other writings, and his voice is captured for us in many recordings – including the archive recording which accompanies this magazine. Lollie, aptly, plays a major part.