Scotland’s Year of Stories, Wick Voices, and Our Cultural Landscape

I’ve written a lot about stories, how they shape and define places. Here in the north Highlands, it can sometimes feel that our stories are being written (or perhaps, rewritten) for us – a landscape of wilderness in which we not appear. I was comforted recently reading The Shepherd’s Life, James Rebanks’ beautiful account of rurality in the Lake District. Although the author spoke of a different place, everything in his words resonated here at the top of the Scottish mainland:

How come the story of our landscape wasn’t about us?

James Rebanks, The Shepherd’s Life
The Shepherd's Life by James Rebanks

Similar thoughts often visit me as I scroll posts about the Highlands on social media, or view marketing material from distant tourism organisations. Everywhere, tales of the Highlands are told through far-off lenses – less visible are the stories of the people who live here, close-up and all year round. So when I was given the opportunity to appear on Wick Voices (a social history project aimed at collecting and preserving local memories and information in oral form), I was delighted to share a bit of my own story – a story of small places, family, home, connection, belonging.

It’s not a big or a particularly remarkable story, but it’s mine.

One of the best things about appearing on Wick Voices was the chance to collaborate with local musician and family friend Steven Taylor, who gave me permission to share two pieces of his music, which were inspired by the folklore I talk about in the recordings. Steven’s music brings another dimension to the sessions, and I’m very grateful to him for sharing his talent and his time.

Projects like Wick Voices celebrate the rich tapestry of local life here in the far north, and put us back at the centre of our own stories – the essence of our cultural landscape. In 2022, Scotland’s Year of Stories, that landscape is as vibrant as ever – a living landscape of people and place.

Windpump Tower, Caithness

If you’d like to listen to the recordings, you can find my main Wick Voices session here, and listen to me read a local legend from my novel Castles of Steel and Thunder in this episode.

Place. People. Stories.

The story of our landscape is us.

G. x

Thank you to everyone at the Wick Society for including my contribution to Wick Voices. Particular thanks to Doreen Leith for overseeing and editing my recording, and for making my involvement with Wick Voices a memorable and enjoyable affair.

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