IAN STEPHEN: A Book of Death and Fish

Ian Stephen new novel launch (hosted by Robert Macfarlane)

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BDF-FRONTPeter MacAulay sits down to write his will, setting in motion a compulsive series of reflections – a subjective account of how key events in the post-war world filter through to his home, Stornoway, told simultaneously with the history of his own life. This engaging novel is driven by its idiosyncratic narrator, but with counterpoints from people he engages with – his father, mother, wife, daughter, friends. It’s a litany of small histories witnessed during one individual lifetime. A vivid portrait of the islands comes into being incrementally, transmitted through Peter’s diverse remembrances. Hebridean dialect and fishermen’s argot texture his tales.

“What a book, by what a writer! Here’s a novel – with shades of the memoir, echoes of the documentary – from a man soaked through by sea and story, about lives and the ways they take place (and the ways place takes them). Lives within lives, and stories within stories, intricately nested; or perhaps hung like hooks to snag the readers: ‘a few droppers dangling off the thread’. Line by line (thread by thread), the voices were so rich, so inventive, and the vision so sharp, that I relished each paragraph. It’s a bright book and a brilliant book, that surges with vigour.” ROBERT MACFARLANE:

“..untitledstories are shaped as though they are not a story at all but are charged with a content that would have its way with you anyway, irrespective of plot.  A Book of Death and Fish is such a story – dense, compelling and wildly idiosyncratic, it s a novel that splits the form open like a fresh catch, glistening and raw and singing with the sea.” KIRSTY GUNN

rai_312_a_boat_retoldThe event opens with a screening of A Boat Retold  Louise Milne and Sean Martin’s short film from 2011

Q. When is a boat not a boat?  A. When it is a story.

In the film, Ian,  Robert Macfarlane and others tell stories in and around the restored Orkney-built boat Broadbay, as it sets off for the Shiant Islands.  The boat and its history become the narrative focus for movements in time over 3 generations, spinning tales of fishing, boat-building and family history – a ballad of Hebridean Island traditions, experiences and art.

Ian StephenIan Stephen is a writer, artist and sailor from the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. He studied English, Drama and Education at Aberdeen University where he graduated in 1980 with a B Ed. (with distinction) and Honours in English. After 15 years in the coastguard service, he resigned in 1995, to work full-time in the arts. Since the late 70s his wide-ranging work has been published in numerous UK journals, as well as internationally, in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Ireland, Switzerland and the USA. Ian was the inaugural winner of the Christian Salvesen/Robert Louis Stevenson award and he was the first artist in residence at StAnza, Scotland’s annual poetry festival. The practice of navigating through the geography of stories has been a key element of his work across the arts since a Creative Scotland Award in 2002. He is profiled in great detail in Robert Macfarlane’s book The Old Ways (2012)


Robert Macfarlane is a writer, critic and academic.  At Cambridge, he teaches and lectures on Anglo-American fiction since 1945, post-modern theory, literature and environmentalism, and the history of the novel.  His book, Mountains of the Mind: A History of a Fascination(2003), a travel-history about the Western love affair with mountains, won the Guardian First Book Award in 2003.  Other books include The Wild Places (2007), Original Copy (2007), and The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot (2012).  He writes regularly on fiction for, among other publications, the Times Literary Supplement, The Sunday Times, The London Review of Books, and The Observer.

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