Nalini Paul was the most recent George Mackay Brown Writing Fellow (2009-10), and used her to year to create and develop a number of exciting projects. She devised and wrote the Johnsmas Foy stage production, working with artists, musicians and dancers; and performing her own poetry. Both performances of In Search of Home featured singing by Aimée Leonard, who directed the show; performances by members of the Orkney Traditional Dance Association; and a song written and performed by Brian Cromarty of Saltfishforty.
Artists responded to Nalini’s themes of migration, memory and landscapes for the exhibition Return to Light, held in September at the Stromness Library. It featured photography by Rebecca Marr; paintings and mixed media by Diana Leslie; stone and tapestry work by Ros Bryant; wall hangings, painted plates and papier mâché by Christina Sargent; and birds made from old white goods by John Vincent, with photographs.
The above themes resonate with Nalini’s life. She was born in India, but moved with her family to Vancouver at two-and-a-half years, too young to remember the place of her birth. The bulk of her memories come from Canada, though she has spent most of her adult life in Scotland.
In December 2009, Nalini teamed up with RSPB Area Manager, Eric Meek, for a weekend of bird watching and writing workshops. Participants wrote about living elsewhere, travel, and Orkney as home. Monthly writing workshops were then held at the St Magnus Centre, with another bird watching/writing weekend in May.
Nalini worked regularly with the Stromness Writing Group, including collaborative workshops with storytellers Fran Flett Hollinrake and Tom Muir; which culminated in a reading that formed part of the Orkney Storytelling Festival in October 2010.
Shortly after starting in post in October 2009, Nalini launched her poetry chap book collection, Skirlags (Red Squirrel Press) at the Pier Arts Centre. It was fitting, then, to launch the anthology, Navigating Home at the Pier nearly a year later, in September 2010: a culmination of writing produced in workshops held over the year, including at Westray Junior High School. Christina Sargent’s artwork graces the cover of the book, as well as the inside; and it was designed by Iain Ashman. Several pieces were inspired by a Neolithic Weekend held in March, when World Heritage Site rangers Sandra Miller and Elaine Henry led tours of ancient sites and gave talks at the Stromness Library, alongside Nalini’s writing workshops. A joint talk and workshop with underwater archaeologist Caroline Wickham-Jones also inspired some of the writing in the anthology.
The VOICE Festival of Literature, held in April, was hosted by Nalini, who invited writers from Edinburgh, Glasgow and Assynt, to give readings and lead workshops.
Nalini led workshops at Stromness Primary, in which children wrote in response to extracts of music. All of those who participated produced writing, whether stories or poems, which have been published in a booklet, Setting Sail.
In March 2010, Nalini collaborated with Rebecca Marr, for a joint presentation of poetry and photography to residents at St Peter’s Home in Stromness. Nalini read her own poetry, as well as that of George Mackay Brown, in conjunction with images taken from Rebecca’s year as artist in residence at the Pier Arts Centre, focussing on agriculture.
Nalini gave a number of poetry readings, including two in Edinburgh; and one in Shetland, for WordPlay. Skirlags was shortlisted for the Callum Macdonald Memorial Award in Edinburgh, in May 2010.
Despite a busy year, Nalini found time to write, and a second poetry collection was published by Red Squirrel Press in December 2010, Slokt by Sea. She has also made progress with her novel, a fictionalised account of her family history. She plans to pursue further writing projects in Orkney in the spring, including a reading at the Literature Festival in April 2011.