It’s time for another Six Degrees post, hooray! This is a monthly meme where participants are given the same starting book by Kate over at BooksAreMyFavouriteAndBest. We then add six linked books of our choosing. It’s always fascinating to see how different the chains end up being.
This month we start with Evie Wyld’s The Bass Rock. From the blurb: “Surging out of the sea, the Bass Rock has for centuries watched over the lives that pass under its shadow on the Scottish mainland. And across the centuries the fates of three women are linked: to this place, to each other.” I have just started reading this and am totally hooked.
The Bass Rock won the 2021 Stella Prize. Another recent prizewinner is The Changing Outer Hebrides by Frank Rennie, which has just won the 2020 Highland Book Prize. I must declare an interest because I am a reader for this prize, which is such a privilege and so very enjoyable. But I feel relaxed about singing the praises of Rennie’s lovely book in my chain because it was not part of my reading allocation. Nor was my next title, The Lost Lights of St Kilda by Elisabeth Gifford. This was longlisted for the HBP and looks to be a gorgeous summer read.
Sticking with lights and Scottish islands takes me to Andrew Grieg’s In Another Light, which is partly set in Orkney, one of my most favourite places. I can’t wait to go back next May for a holiday postponed from this year.
The next best thing to actually visiting a place is reading stories set there. And one of the huge silver linings of the pandemic has been the gift of online access to events and discussions that would otherwise have remained local. I have been delighted to join in on the George Mackay Brown Fellowship’s reading of seven books to celebrate the centenary of his birth. Check out this link for more information about this giant of Scottish poetry and fiction. And lest it seem as if this is all a bit of a diversion from my chain, my next title, building on Grieg’s Orkney link, is GMB’s Magnus. This is the first of the seven titles in the centenary reading list, and is a gripping imagining of the life and martyrdom of the 12 Century Orkney Earl who eventually became St Magnus.
One of the main settings in Magnus is the Brough of Birsay, a beguiling tidal island off the Orkney main island. It is one of the places we always visit and you can see it in all its glory in this post’s feature image, which I took in 2019. It is thrilling to navigate the causeway as people have done for thousands of years. You can still see the remains of Pictish and Norse settlements and stretch your legs with a gentle climb up to the lighthouse. Which leads me to my fifth title: The Lighthouse Stevensons by Bella Bathurst. This is a riveting account of the building of Scottish lighthouses against impossible odds, involving feats of engineering that would be incredible today, let alone in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Stevensons in Bathurst’s book are the ancestors of a certain Robert Louis Stevenson. How utterly delicious it is that one of his lesser known books, Catriona (the sequel to Kidnapped) sees the main character imprisoned on, yes you guessed it, the Bass Rock. Love it!!
Thank you Kate for choosing a starting title that has allowed me to indulge in a trip around Scotland, arriving neatly back where we started.
Next month we start with Lynne Truss’s brilliant book about the importance of grammar: Eats, Shoots and Leaves. See you then! 🙂