Spirit of the Hebrides long-listed for Highland Book Prize

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The weekend’s wild weather was to be the perfect setting for a special collaborative event between the Highland Book Prize and the Highland Bookshop last Saturday February 8, writes Kirsteen Bell.

Skye-born photographer Alastair Jackson presented a selection of his atmospheric images of Skye and Raasay, as he introduced his and Kenneth Steven’s book, The Spirit of the Hebrides – one of the 11 titles long-listed for the Highland Book Prize this year.

The list was curated from 88 nominated titles by a selection of volunteer readers from across the Highlands, and The Spirit of the Hebrides was described as a ‘beautiful and evocative book that explores the land and seascapes of these islands, their vast skies and their resilient, shifting beauty in all seasons and weathers’.

Mr Jackson’s photographs are accompanied by a selection of poems by Kenneth Steven, with both images and text inspired by the works of the influential Gaelic poet Sorley Maclean.

When Mr Jackson was clearing out his granny’s house he discovered a 1973 LP of Sorley Maclean’s voice, the first audio recording of his work, in which Mr Maclean talks about places in Skye and Raasay that Mr Jackson recognised from his own childhood – and so he began going out into the nooks and inlets so well known to him and his family to take images inspired by Sorley’s poems.

He told the bookshop audience: ‘There are so many of these places in Skye, lots of wee places you wouldn’t know about unless you know the area really well’.

At the same time Mr Jackson said that the project had taken him to parts of the islands he had never visited before: ‘Elgol is a popular spot for photographers, but I’d never been there until four years ago.

‘When you grow up somewhere you can be guilty of not visiting places.’

As he shared the images, Mr Jackson gave the audience an insight into the ideas of history and family that he had wanted to impart into his photographs, as well as sharing the challenges of capturing such distinctive landscapes.

He said: ‘I don’t take images between May and September, it’s too nice, too bright.  I always look for atmosphere over technical perfection’.

Certainly Mr Jackson’s images capture both the Highland light as well as the stormy dark, and he talked about his perfect day for photography on Skye as being ‘wet, with hailstones, wind and cloud, to capture the real storminess of Skye – and then 20 minutes later the skies can be clear!’

The event was introduced by Ian Peter MacDonald, representing the Highland Society of London who support the Highland Book Prize.

The prize was established in 2017 to celebrate the finest published work that recognises the rich talent, landscape and cultural diversity of the Highlands, and Mr MacDonald said that the society has long been a great supporter of Highland culture.

Another of the long-listed titles, Landscapes in Stone, by geologist Alan McKirdy, will be introduced at the Highland Bookshop on Saturday March 6.