Pamela Beasant

Writing Fellow 2007

Pam BeasantPam was born and brought up in Glasgow. She studied English at Oxford University then worked at Usborne Publishing in London before moving to Orkney in 1986. Since then, she has worked freelance as a writer and editor, and recently as Arts Officer for Orkney Islands Council. Pam has been widely published as a poet, and in 2006, her play, A Hamnavoe Man, based on the life and writing of George Mackay Brown, was commissioned by and performed at the St Magnus Festival. Two further scripts were performed at the Festival in 2007 and 2008 – Four Green Miles and Riders of Sea Horses. Her biographical study Stanley Cursiter, a Life of the Artist, was published in 2007 and her collaboration with composer Gemma McGregor on a children’s musical Voice, was performed in Orkney in 2008. Pam is finishing her first novel and has started a second. Editorially, she has worked on many books, in particular St Magnus Festival, a celebration, which she compiled and edited, published in 2002, and A New Orkney Anthology (2007). Pam is listed by the Scottish Book Trust, and has held writers’ bursaries from the Scottish Arts Council and Hi-Arts. Her collection Running with a Snow Leopard was published in 2008 by Two Ravens Press, and a collaboration with photographer Iain Sarjeant, Orkney; a celebration of light and landscape was published in 2010. From 2007-2010, she was the Scottish Poetry Library’s Poet Partner in Orkney. Pam has read her work throughout Scotland and in Brittany and Bratislava, and selections have been translated into Slovak. She has been appointed as the Director of the new Orkney Writers’ Course at the St Magnus Festival, is on the steering group for Scottish Island Writers, and is the Chair of the George Mackay Brown Fellowship organisation.

Pam has had a long association with George Mackay Brown and his work. She knew him as friend and mentor for the last ten years of his life, and since his death has been involved in several projects in his memory. In 2005, she raised public and private funds to have a stone carved for GMB in Makars’ Court, part of the Writers’ Museum in Edinburgh, with the inscription ‘In the fire of images, gladly I put my hand’, from the poem Hamnavoe. Of the Fellowship, Pam says:

‘It was a remarkable and exciting opportunity to commemorate GMB’s literary legacy, while promoting new and innovative writing within the islands and beyond. The scope of the Fellowship is wide open, and the projects completed in 2007 were hopefully the tip of the iceberg in terms of opportunities for creative writing and collaboration across the arts. It’s gratifying that the Fellowship has put down firm roots, and grown to become a permanent focus for literary activity in the north-east.’

Throughout the 2007 Fellowship, Pam was based in Stromness Library, close to George Mackay Brown’s house at Mayburn Court. She worked with the writing groups in Stromness and Kirkwall, and visited the isles to facilitate writing activity there. Writing group members had the opportunity to read at various events and publish their work in A New Orkney Anthology.

Some highlights from 2007

Seven Orkney writers: a reading

This event was held to mark the launch of the anthology of new writing from the Highlands and Islands, Riptide, published in April 2007 by Two Ravens Press, and featuring several Orkney writers: Alison Flett, Morag MacInnes, John McGill, Jo Lawson, Yvonne Gray, Fiona Matheson and Pam Beasant. It was a huge success, with a capacity audience and all seven writers read entertainingly. Sharon Blackie from Two Ravens came to Orkney for the event, and seemed very impressed by the local writing talent.

Animated film project

Working in association with artist Ali Gunn and composer Gemma McGregor, an exciting film project was completed, generated by the people who attend St Colm’s Day Centre, and the Laing St Tuesday Club, for adults with learning and/or physical disabilities. Based on the lives and experiences of the film-makers, the films incorporate footage of the participants along with two animations – Magical Westray Adventure, and Crocodile Dundee and the Evil Dinosaur Duck.
Nothing quite like this had been done on Orkney before, and the films are an affirmation of the lives of all those involved. A ‘red carpet’ premiere of the films took place at the New Phoenix Cinema, Kirkwall, in early 2008.

St Magnus Festival – Four Green Miles (The Johnsmas Foy)

Four Green Miles focused on Orkney’s most northerly island, North Ronaldsay, which has a magic and beauty all its own. The island is famous for its seaweed-eating sheep, kept on the shore by a stone dyke which surrounds the island for 13 miles. The Old Beacon lighthouse was featured on BBC2 as part of the Restoration programme, winning a substantial donation towards the cost of restoring the lighthouse, which has stood on the island since 1789.
The remaining 60 or so islanders have a rich past, but face an uncertain future, with very few children now living on the island. Four Green Miles celebrated this beautiful place, through the words of present and former islanders, in verse, song, story and film.
Four Green Miles was a large project, involving a great deal of background research, and compiling the script, including writing linking narrations and a new poem. There was also a great deal to do on the production side. One of the most exciting aspects was commissioning a brand new piece of music, Svecia, from local musician Douglas Montgomery, which was one of the Festival world premieres.
The production was very warmly received by St Magnus Festival audiences, and each performance sold out, playing to a total of nearly 600 people.

The George Mackay Brown Memorial Lecture

Maggie Fergusson, award-winning biographer of George Mackay Brown, gave a talk in Orkney on April 12 – almost exactly 11 years to the day since his death. By extraordinary coincidence, GMB was buried on St Magnus Day (April 16), a day which was highly significant to him spiritually, as St Magnus the Martyr was consistently one of the central symbols of his life and work. Maggie Fergusson explored the painstaking research she undertook to gather all the disparate strands of GMB’s life into her biography – a process with some frustrations and huge rewards along the way. It was the first time she had given such a talk in Orkney, and the event was eagerly received.

The GMB Memorial Lecture is becoming an annual event around St Magnus Day. Subsequent talks have been delivered by Morag MacInnes in 2008, and Dr Donna Heddle in 2010. While future speakers may choose other subjects, it seems highly appropriate that the first three lectures were about the islands’ great writer.

Writers’ Retreat, Hoy

Workshop leaders Janet MacInnes, Morag MacInnes, Yvonne Gray and Alison Flett, led a series of intensive workshops over the weekend, which were hard work, but stimulating.

Three Orkney writers visited on Saturday evening: John McGill, John Aberdein and Fiona Matheson, who gave excellent readings. There was also some individual mentoring throughout.

On Sunday, there was a display of poetry pamphlets and a session on how to get your work into print. There was also time for reading some of the results of the workshops.
Altogether, it was highly successful both as a bonding and a confidence-building exercise, and much writing was produced. Only one week later, some participants were reading on the radio and in public, alongside the Edinburgh Shore Poets at the Shore to Shore festival. The whole event was unforgettable.

Shore to Shore Festival

Less than a week after the retreat, four of the Edinburgh Shore Poets, Diana Hendry, Christine De Luca, Andrew Philip and Ian McDonough, arrived in Orkney for the literature Festival, Shore to Shore. They were joined by Laureen Johnson from Shetland, and Orkney writers Nigel Wheale, John McGill and Ron Ferguson. Christine De Luca and Andy Philip, gave schools workshops and read their work on BBC Radio Orkney’s arts programme, Tullimentan. Diana Hendry and Ian McDonough gave workshops over the weekend.

All the Festival readings had accompanying music, and ten of the participants on the Hoy retreat read their work at various events – some of them for the first time in public.

A New Orkney Anthology, and Our A-Z

A New Orkney Anthology was published in April 2008, featuring writing produced in workshops throughout the year from budding writers all over Orkney, including the north isles. Alongside these emerging authors, there are contributions from established writers based in Orkney and beyond, including the visiting Edinburgh poets, and a special commission from then Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, who visited Orkney for the first time in 2007.

Our A-Z was produced through workshops with primary age children in Orkney Library and with the Stromness After-School Club. Featuring acrostics and haiku, the children explored a huge range of subject matter, from angels to zebra. A copy of the book was sent to every school in Orkney.