Both a fluent Gaelic speaker and English teacher with many years of experience, I was raised in Ness, Isle of Lewis, attending the Nicolson Institute in Stornoway during my secondary school years before moving to Glasgow. After attending university, I went home once more, teaching in the Western Isles and Shetland before becoming a full-time writer.
Throughout this period, I have always written; my work widely published and broadcast.
As a Gaelic speaker, my voice can sometimes be heard on BBC Radio Nan Gaidheal. Among other programmes, I have appeared on the BBC 4’s Birds Britannia, where I morphed briefly into Sir David Attenborough and also in ‘The Last Seabird Summer’. I have delivered talks, too, in a wide range of locations from University of Reykjavik in Iceland to the Edinburgh Festival, the Nordic Centre in Torshavn, Faroe Islands, the Blasket Centre in Dingle, County Kerry in Ireland and the Pisa International Book Festival in Italy, where I was among Scotland’s representatives.
Together with being the main speaker at the International Celtic Congress, I have also been awarded the Jessie Kesson Fellowship and the Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship for my writing.
About writer's work
I have published a large number of books. My first short story collection, Special Deliverance was shortlisted for a Saltire Award while my poetry pamphlet West-coasters - largely about the islands off the Irish coast -received the same recognition in the Callum MacDonald Memorial Awards. My non-fiction book The Guga Hunters about the gannet-hunting tradition in Ness in the Isle of Lewis garnished excellent reviews; most especially by Will Self in the Telegraph, Jim Crumley in the Scots Magazine and others. Similar attention has been given to my subsequent book, ‘And On This Rock; Italian Chapel, Orkney’ which obtained a great number of favourable notices. My book ‘Herring Tales’ received international attention, obtaining the approval of the ‘Spectator’, ‘Economist’, ‘Geographical Magazine’, ‘BBC Countryside’ and like my previous book, ‘The Guga Stone; Lies, Legends and Lunacies from St Kilda’, being chosen as one of the Guardian’s Nature Books of the Year. My book ‘SY StorY: Portrait of Stornoway Harbour’ was published to mark the 150th anniversary of the port of Stornoway.
I have also written a considerable number of articles. My journalism and reviews have appeared in various outlets. These include national outlets like the Scottish Review, Sunday Herald, Bella Caledonia and local newspapers like the Shetland Times, Stornoway Gazette and the West Highland Free Press. My Gaelic play ‘Sequamur’ about the effect of the First World War on the Nicolson Institute, Stornoway. This was performed throughout Scotland as well as London, Belfast and in Ypres in Belgium.
In addition to this, I continue to write poetry, producing the pamphlets ‘Between Minch and Muckle Flugga, Praising The Guga and Speak To Us, Catriona in recent years. As a result of this, my poetry have been chosen as among the Poems of The Year by the Scottish Poetry Library in recent years. I have also written ‘Small Expectations’, a surreal and bizarre sequence of short stories and poems. These chronicle the long tussle between remaining at home and going away to the mainland that occurs in a bilingual, island boy’s soul. Again, this work has been widely and well-reviewed, including the Scotsman and the Herald. In Weaving Songs, another book, I have put together a collection of verse to commemorate and celebrate the life of my late father who was both a weaver and raised me as a single parent. Together with the photography of Carol Ann Peacock, it was published by Acair to mark the centenary of the Orb trademark employed by the Harris Tweed industry.
Current events and projects
I can – in either Gaelic or English – deliver talks on various topics to primary, secondary and adult audiences. In the recent past, I have visited schools throughout , speaking about my own work and my knowledge of seabirds and other matters. I have also taken part in many book festivals and other events, both north and south of the border and farther afield. My destinations to date have included:
Aye Write (Glasgow)
The Pisa International Book Festival, Italy
Wigtown Book Festival
Black Isle Book festival, Cromarty
Faclan (in Stornoway)
Wordplay (in Lerwick)
Nairn Book Festival,
Edinburgh Book Festival – both individually and with Will Self
Three Lochs (Ardnamurchan)
University of Reykjavik
Nordic Centre, Torshavn, Faroe Islands
Blasket Islands Visitor Centre, Co Kerry, Ireland
Scottish Seabird Centre, North Berwick
Celtic Connections, Glasgow
Ullapool Book Festival
Spirit of Moray Book Festival, Elgin
I have also been involved in working with photographers, musicians, artists and craft-workers and am willing to conduct workshops on this. Among the individuals with whom I have worked is the visual artist, Doug Robertson and photographer, Carol Ann Peacock. I have also appeared at Celtic Connections at a concert, ‘Stand and Stare’ celebrating the work of the Welsh poet, W H Davies.
I can talk about many and varied subjects. These include:
Nature – especially seabirds.
Italian Chapel, Orkney
The short story.
The writing of various Scottish poets and authors.
Single parenting – a father’s role.
Clearly, as someone with nearly thirty years of teaching and preparing pupils/students for examinations at every level, I have a great deal of experience and knowledge of the demands and requirements of Scottish education. This applies not only to creative writing and literature but also talk and debate. Some of the school teams with which I have been involved have won national and individual debating competitions.
Currently, I am working on a number of books, including a book on the European moors which is to be published by Bloomsbury in the near future.