Book Launch of The Clearing in Orkney

I am often asked about the fact that I am both a writer and a visual artist, and how these two creative practices fit together. I was asked this question again at the lovely book launch event at the new “Threshing Floor Theatre” that was held this weekend (see pic). I feel like I didn’t give a satisfactory answer, so I’ve been thinking about it some more.

I started out as an artist, but always wrote a lot. My sketchbooks would have as much text in them as pictures.

Gradually the writing started to work its way out into the world, so it always felt like a natural development rather than a big leap.

I still do both, and hope I always will, although sometimes one takes precedence over the other, usually because of a deadline or a big project.

When I am stuck or tired with writing I can go and do something in the studio, or record some sounds or edit some video, while whatever I am stuck on with writing quietly coalesces in the background.

Sitting down to write again, things move more freely. And the same goes vice-versa.

Moving between modes, in an unhurried way, seems to keep things open and fluid.


And then I came across this TED talk today, of Tim Harford talking about creativity and what he likes to call ‘slow motion multi-tasking’.

This isn’t the kind of frantic, rushed multi-tasking that we were all once called upon to embrace but that has, thankfully, fallen out of fashion in recent years. It’s something more considered, careful and steady.

I recognised what he is talking about here right away. It’s certainly what I do as I move between writing, drawing, editing, and going out with my camera.



But I think there is something else here that Harford doesn’t mention  – this multitasking is unhurried, but it is not aimless. There is an underlying sense of purpose and quiet focus. A bone being chewed on again and again.

Charles Darwin didn’t just playing the bassoon to his earthworms for fun. He was posing questions and seeking answers. He had a purpose, a direction of travel.

But he wasn’t in a hurry to take the most direct route. When the road ahead is blocked or unclear, sometimes it makes sense to take the scenic route instead.