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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Get rid of the stuff that's not working. Just pare it down until it's a beautiful thing you can hand in, probably late, to your editor. -Kurt Loder

Daylight Savings Time, whatever. It's still dark at 4pm. When you've only got a few hours of daylight to play with, and these hours are becoming fewer and fewer, you have to take advantage. Matt and I went up to Unst and Yell last weekend. It's less than 2 hours, including ferrys, to get up to Saxa Vord in the north of Unst. On a map, it looks ages away, and frankly feels worlds away. Saxa Vord is an old RAF base that is currently being renovated into a holiday resort and will be a really cool place to be in the 'simmer dim' summertime, when the light lasts until the wee hours of the morning. We met some charming locals up there (including a woman from Florida, of all places) and got a taste of how remote it is, as fewer than 900 people live on the island. Lerwick feels like Manhattan after this place.

On Saturday we headed to the Hermaness nature reserve, which is home to numerous birds, including puffins. Above is the peaty marsh that we slogged through trying to hike to the lighthouse. There is something incredible about standing at the edge of Britain, staring at the water, when the only thing out there is the North Pole. Many signs point to "Britain's Most Northerly..." (church, lighthouse, sheep, etc.) To live here would take a special sort of self-sufficiency, as well as the tough skin to deal with everybody knowing your business all the time. Imagine being 2 hours from the nearest bank, or supermarket, or coffee shop, and living at the mercy of the ferry schedules. I admire those who live this sort of life. The wind howls at a pitch I've never heard before. But the sky goes on forever. Below was the view back to the car through the peaty marsh. Pretty amazing.

We drove all the roads in Unst and got the ferry down to Yell, stopping at what is probably Britain's Most Northerly Coffee Shop, the Wind Dog. It's a great little place with internet access, sandwiches, and a small but well-stocked lending library. I love these sorts of places, which are all around Shetland, these one-stop shops that are the saving grace for weary travellers in dire need of a caffeine fix. Below are "Da Twelve Shetland Apostles": Artist, Howdie, Preacher, Poacher, Crofter, Knitter, Boatman, Banjoman, Roadman, Smuggler, Birdman, Whaler. There's Shetland heritage on one wall.

Ponies, ponies. They're weird little things. I'm not one for small things - those mini bananas, or baby corn, or anything that's smaller than usual. It's probably due to my own fear of things smaller than me, which there ain't much of in this here world. The ponies are quite friendly, and as soon as they see a human they immediately come over to say hello. Our cleaner raises them, and she and some of the other pony farmers pay a horse whisperer to come once a month from the mainland. Apparently these ponies are intelligent little guys, and are inquisitive because they feel superior to humans. Hmm.

On that note. Here's Matt with the typical Shetland Bin. Yep, that's Shetland English on the sign. Matt loves it as it's close to the dialect from Deeside, where he's from. I like it because I've had to deal with the dialect from Deeside, so it's not been too difficult for me to understand when it's spoken. Shetland was given to Britain as a dowry, essentially, from Norway, so it's not surprising that they use so many Old Norse terms.

Matt and Caroline and I went into town for a cup of coffee this afternoon. I'm feeling nostalgia for this place already. I leave for the US on the 19th and won't be back til Christmas; after that, 3 weeks in January (including the Up Helly Aa Viking fire festival!) and we're gone. I admit that this place has worked wonders for my writing. I'm now in a groove that might not have been possible in a place with distractions, such as bookshops or nice weather. Or things like a social life.

The second novel goes to my agent later this week. I have a couple of phone interviews with people this week, then the finishing touches and it's ready. Various lawyers, estate agents, tourism boards, and friends have been so kind to help with this book. I wonder if all works of fiction are the result of many, not just one.

6 comments:

Erik R. said...

Those first three photos are gorgeous! I've placed all three into my rotating desktop wallpaper folder.

I lived in Denmark for a few months. The no-light winter months are seriously tough psychologically.

KP said...

Cheers! Glad you like them! More to come if and when it stops raining...

Zain said...

Hey KP, you and Matt are an inspiration. Even though I'm not looking forward to coming back to the UK I find some reason to look on the bright side each time I read your pages. Going to try and come to Up Helly Ah in Jan if Shetland will have me. Hey it's not like I'll have a job or anything...

sgazzetti said...

Love the pictures. Love. To bits.

Jesse & James said...

Hiya! What a place you are living in. I've always felt drawn to go up there, for the very reasons that you wrote about. Sounds like the wind might knock us off our bikes though. What is happening with your visa/residency status? I haven't had an update in a while. I'm heading back to the states on the 19th too. What airports do you fly through?I think I'll be in DC for a few hours.

Matt said...

Ahem... dowry to Scotland...

The Hansa survived the transfer of political power from Scandinavia to Scotland in 1469, when a Danish king pawned his lands and taxes in Shetland to complete his daughter's dowry to the royal house of Scotland. The Privy Council in Edinburgh ignored repeated Danish attempts to redeem the pledge but Shetland became Scottish only very slowly, despite the depredations of Scots earls such as the Stewart family.

There you go... x