Brimful of nostalgia, Catherine’s book remembers a different way of life

The Scalloway Museum was the venue on Tuesday evening for the launch of Catherine Emslie’s book A Shetland Childhood.

A large crowd, with seating at a premium, was treated to musical items and the author explaining how the book evolved.

Catherine Emslie talks about her book A Shetland Childhood at its launch at the Scalloway Museum on Wednesday night. Photo: Stephen Gordon

She brought it more alive by reading excerpts in which with various anecdotes she painted a vivid picture of growing up in Scalloway and Burra in the 1950s with many acutely recalled references to people and places.

In her book, brimming full with nostalgia, she manages to transport the reader back to a to a way of life very different to today’s.

She has put a lot of thought into the book to lay down a very full picture which is essentially a piece of social history seen through the eyes of an inquisitive child.

As a child of the 1960s the book has many references which I can relate to – the way of life described by the author essentially had disappeared by the 1980s with the impact of the oil boom.

The photographs, courtesy of Willie Smith, are mainly from the collection of Clement Williamson, an underrated photographer. They complement the author’s writing very well.

I found the chapter on the fishing boat Jessie Sinclair particularly interesting as I knew some of the crew. Emslie’s father Willie Goodlad was skipper when the boat won the Prunier Trophy. I
was also intrigued by the chapter about “summer’s end”. The book covers the whole gambit including school, kirk, shopping and Up-Helly-A’.

Knowing her lifelong interest in writing, she was asked before proceedings began if she had picked the day to launch her book to coincide with the 200 anniversary of the birth of Jane Austen. She joked: “If I had known I would have gone to Lerwick for yun thing on at the Shetland Library!”

Emslie was born in Burra but soon moved to Scalloway. After completing her schooling in Shetland, from the mid-1960s until 2004 she spent most of her life away at university then teaching
in various capacities. She even spent a year in Australia, but during this time she said: “Wherever I lived, Shetland was always hame.”

Musical items were kicked off with three generations of the Napier family playing some fine fiddle tunes.

After an unplugged May & Mackie lent their powerful harmonies to the evening. A highlight was Forever Has Come to an End, even though it did waver on the melancholic.

Emslie is a member of the Lerwick Writers Group which was thanked along with others, for the support in putting the book project together.

James Sinclair of the group read two of his atmospheric poems, one of his memories of the scene around Lerwick Harbour in the 1970s and another imagined one about about a sixareen.

Christine Tait also recited two pieces of work, one about our responsibility to the written word, The Prayer of the Unread Book, and another relating to Chinese whispers.

With Scalloway Castle bathed in late sunshine nearby, this was an entertaining evening of local music and poetry to help raise the profile of a book that foundly honours life in the isles in the 1950s.

Emslie says with her writing that she doesn’t want to put words in people’s mouths. But she hopes through her writing to “help folk along the road to where they really didn’t think they were going”.


Add Your Comment
  • Catherine Emslie

    • July 22nd, 2017 11:42

    Thank you to The Shetland Times and to Stephen Gordon for your kind words – however, I would like to make it clear that, at no point in A Shetland Childhood do I claim that my father was skipper of the Jessie Sinclair – in fact, I make it plain that Bob Williamson was.

    • Angus Gordon

      • March 12th, 2018 15:35

      I have a wooden boat that has been in my family for many years. It looks like an apprentice may have made it as a scale model. The name I get is Robert Williamson (Bob) – I wonder if it was his. Can send a photo of it should you be interested as I am.


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