New anthology of writing on Shetland’s fishing culture

A new anthology of creative writing on the isles’ fishing culture is being launched next month, with the help of Shetland Arts.

White Below, published by the Hansel Co-operative Press, is a collection of short stories and poems by six Shetland writers.

The writers have used conversations with fishermen, gutters and their families to develop new works with a common theme.

Laureen Johnston has researched the seasonal work of the gutters as they followed the herring, and celebrates their labour in poems like Barrels and Rhythms, while reflecting also on lightsome times in Wir Hut and Gutted.

The woman’s viewpoint is also reflected in Lise Sinclair’s Kuna, while Mark Ryan Smith takes a humorous look at the generation gap in An owld fisherman bulders at a young een.

The psychological and physical hazards facing the apprentice fisherman is the subject of Charlie Simpson’s Turbot Line, John Cumming’s Da Nipper and Smith’s The Fisherman.

In Settlin Up, James Sinclair’s old fisherman looks with some trepidation on his forthcoming retiral, while in Da Week dat’s Awa he enumerates the frustrations of days at sea endured for “therty boxes o bruck”.

Poems and stories are, for the most part, in Shetland dialect, and the language used reflects the differences between localities. A glossary provides assistance for those who may need some help with terms such bedral styett.

Arranged in chapters under headings such as “Da Boat” and “Darg”, this book provides a rich contrast to the existing library of historical studies of Shetland’s fishing industry.

Illustrated with simple line and wash drawings, it gathers from the live traditions of those Shetlanders who went to sea in search of sustenance, companionship, adventure and mastery. It is, as John Goodlad suggests in his foreword, a project long overdue. Let’s hope this is only the first of many such ventures.

The writers will read their works at the launch on Friday 7th May at 6pm in the boat hall at Shetland Museum.


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