What should audiences expect from The Silent Islands, your event at Faclan: the Hebridean Book Festival?
I’m giving a talk along with the musician Jessica Danz, so audiences can expect to not only see a selection of my work from the islands, but also song and music. The event will focus on the lesser known St Kilda, with the 1930 evacuation only part of a much wider story which continues today.
This year’s festival theme is Fear. How do you think your event will fit in with that theme?
A fear of uncomfortable truths. St Kilda is a place which is so steeped in mythology that it is hard to separate fact from fiction. Having travelled out to Hirta on numerous occasions, slept under its skies, and spent time with people who live and work there, it becomes apparent that outside of the Outer Hebrides, little is actually known about Hirta’s current role. I’ll explore some of the myth-making around St Kilda through historical images as well as my own.
Jessica Danz will speak about the lesser-known story of the emmigration of 36 St Kildans to Australia in 1852, the fear of leaving home, and of the tragic and terrifying journey which resulted in many of them losing their lives on the voyage.
What are you most afraid of and why?
Aside from losing loved ones? Probably the fear of losing inspiration or the energy to make new work. Thankfully neither have happened to me yet, but these things come in waves.
What was the last book you read?
I’ve just re-read Momus’s Book of Scotlands which has just been re-issued. It’s in the vein of Calvino’s Invisible Cities or Angus Peter Campbell’s Invisible Islands, and imagines 156 alternate Scotlands ranging from the plausible to the completely absurd. The last book which really left an impression was Loki’s Poverty Safari.
Who is your favourite writer and why?
WG Sebald always appealed to me on a number of levels, and not just because of his beautiful, quiet, and meditative writing style. His unreliable narratorial voice, his interesting usage of archival material, and his exploration of Europe’s recent traumatic past are all themes which run through my own work. His book Austerlitz is incredibly moving, and one which I often think about. He came to replace Günter Grass as my favourite novelist, another author who deals with similar themes but with much more black humour
What do you find is the easiest and/or the most difficult part of your work?
The easiest part is the making. The hardest is the edit. This applies to both writing and photography. Recently I took several thousand images for a project which will end up using about 100. The same ratio is true for writing – murdering your darlings doesn’t get any easier across the artforms.
What are you working on at the moment that you are most excited about?
I’ve just begun a doctorate focusing on depictions of the Scottish landscape which is taking up much of my time, but I still have a few book projects to come out which are exciting. These include a documentary project on the Faroe Islands, a book with Jonathan Meades, and a project I spent the summer working on – Mountains of Scotland, a book inspired by the writing of Kyūya Fukada and supported by a Fellowship at the National Library of Scotland. I have no idea how I’m going to make all these happen in the next few years, but at least I won’t be sitting still!
Alex Boyd: The Silent Islands is at Faclan: the Hebridean Book Festival on Wednesday 31 October, 5pm. Book tickets here.