A picture of the artist at work in her studio
It’s been a slow spring here in Orkney, with the cold dragging its heels even as the light floods back and the evenings open up. But memories of the extraordinary blue-and-silver days of snow and hard frost we had back in February and March are coming back in the studio and I’m enjoying getting some new work under way, even if it’s still a bit on the chilly side!

I was lucky enough last month enough to receive a small grant from the Visual Arts and Craft Maker Awards from Creative Scotland and Orkney Islands Council. The grant’s aim is to support a period of skills development or experimentation, and I’m using it to try working with imitation silver leaf and iridescent inks and binders, trying to capture something of those shimmering, cold blue skies and soft winter fogs we’ve experienced over the last months. It turns out using silver leaf is tricky! It’s so light and filmy it just blows everywhere, and there’s a real knack to laying it! But I’ll persevere, as early results seem promising.
Other than this, I’ve been enjoying some really beautiful books this month, some of which I’d like to share with you.

I’ve long admired the intricately detailed mezzotint prints of moths that printmaker Sarah Gillespie makes. In each print, a single, delicate moth emerges from the velvet black ground like a pale flame. I would dearly love to own one. Perhaps one day! In the meantime, I now have her book, “Moth”, with images of many of her prints, alongside a poem by Alice Oswald and foreword by Mark Cocker. Moths are such overlooked creatures, but so important as pollinators and food source for bats and birds who prey on them and their caterpillars. But, like so much else, their populations are in steep decline.
In an interview with writer Gay Watson, Gillespie says “The work of artists and poets has always been to awaken our attention, to show what is unseen. That feels urgent now. Modern life is brightly lit but our attention to the lives of so many creatures has largely slept and the damage has been enormous” Gillespie’s drawings of moths enact the kind of meticulously careful attention to nature that she hopes is an antidote to this mindless destruction. “The world is full of amazing things. We can choose to remain ignorant, or we can sharpen our senses and allow our world to be altered.” MOTH is a book I will really treasure. It’s a limited edition but you can still order a copy from her website.
Cover of the book 'Moth'
Another wonderful discovery this month has been “Wheesht – creative making in uncertain times” by the knitwear designer Kate Davies. Wheesht! is one of those useful Scots words that are hard to translate exactly. Roughly, it means ‘be quiet!’, to haud yer weesht! Davies suffered a stroke at age 36 that ended her career as a literary academic. She began knitting to aid her recuperation, and has since then gradually built a new career as a knitwear designer, maker, collaborator and writer, with a clear set of ethics underpinning all she does. I’ve known about her work for a while, and harbour the ambition to be a good enough knitter to make one of her beautiful shawl designs one day, so I was chuffed to bits when she wrote some lovely things about my book The Clearing on her blog last month. That was how I came across her own recently published book “Wheesht”.
book cover of Wheesht
I was immediately drawn to the questions Davies poses here. She challenges the banal ‘move fast and break things’ ethos of creative ‘disruption’ that has been co-opted by the very forces that in fact appear entirely committed to quashing any actual creative possibility in our lives. “What if,” she asks, “instead of breaking or disrupting, we made mending and repair the focus of our work? How might creative praxis change if it became more about bringing other people forward than blowing one’s own trumpet? What if we stopped wishing for creative freedom and thought more carefully about what limitation or impediment might have to show us?” I’m only part of the way through this book, but I already know it will be well thumbed and marked up by the time I’m done with it. It’s available on her website. ​
In other news, the second piece of my own writing that I mentioned last month, commissioned for the National Library of Scotland, was originally scheduled for publication this month. However, with the gradual opening up of COVID restrictions, they are all really busy getting ready for opening the NLS building to the public again, so publication has now been postponed until the summer. So do watch this space for updates on that. Meantime, an interview I gave a few months ago with Glasgow-based journalist Shirley Whiteside has just been broadcast on Pulse 98.4 Radio. You can listen on catch up – I come in at about 36 minutes in.
If you don’t already have a copy of the paperback edition of The Clearing you can purchase it using the button below, or at your lovely local independent bookseller!