Literature in Shetland

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  • Muckle Flugga Lighthouse, Unst
    Muckle Flugga Lighthouse, Unst
  • Sandness, Mainland
    Sandness, Mainland
  • Shetland Crofthouse Museum, Mainland
    Shetland Crofthouse Museum, Mainland
  • Sumburgh Head and lighthouse, Mainland
    Sumburgh Head and lighthouse, Mainland
  • The west side of Whalsay
    The west side of Whalsay

Shetland has been a source of literary inspiration throughout the ages, spanning everything from Viking sagas to contemporary thrillers. Discover the places and attractions that have inspired and appeared in the works of writers as diverse as the great Sir Walter Scott and acclaimed poet Hugh MacDiarmid.

Shetland boasts literary connections to a number of writers and poets. Visit the islands and towns and villages which sparked their creative imaginations and which some of them called home.

Hugh MacDiarmid, one of the foremost Scottish poets of the 20th century, lived on the island of Whalsay with his wife and son from 1933 till 1942. Visitors can stay in his former home which has since been converted into a hostel, the Grieves Bod, and take in the hauntingly beautiful land and seascapes which inspired some of the best poetry of his career.

The township of Sandness was the home of the poet and novelist Robert Alan Jamieson and its close-knit community the inspiration poetry collection Nort Atlantik Drift.

Mavis Grind, a narrow isthmus framed by the Atlantic on one side and the North Sea on the other, is the subject of William J. Tait’s poem A Day Atween Waddirs while Sumburgh Head with its dramatic coastal scenery appears in Sir Walter Scott’s ripping yarn The Pirate.

It’s not just Shetland’s natural beauty which has inspired writers. The Shetland Crofthouse Museum in Dunrossness is a carefully restored 19th century dwelling and serves as the setting of Stella Sutherland’s poem At da Croft Museum.

Muckle Flugga Lighthouse on North Unst was constructed by the master lighthouse builders Thomas and David Stevenson in 1854. Years later Thomas’s son Robert Louis Stevenson paid a visit to the island which is thought to have influenced the map of his classic adventure tale Treasure Island.

One of the islands’ most surprising literary connections is the oil terminal at Sullom Voe which features in Robert Alan Jamieson’s Thin Wealth and Ian Rankin’s Rebus mystery Black and Blue.

Fellow British crime writer Ann Cleeves has chosen Shetland as the setting for her gripping murder-mystery novelsThe acclaimed BBC One adaption of Cleeves' books, Shetland, staring Douglas Henshall as Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez returned in March 2014 for a second series. This series focuses on three stories – Raven Black, Dead Water and Blue Lightning – told as three two-part episodes.

Find out more about the literature of Shetland at Writing the North, an ongoing project bringing together literary historians, museum professionals, schools and creative writers of Orkney and Shetland. Find more information, including details of upcoming events and readings, on their website.

Shetland’s striking landscape, strong storytelling tradition and fascinating history have all contributed to its impressive literary heritage, and its islands continue to inspire writers to this day.