'The Voice of the Writer' Language, Land and People


Ardtornish House, Morvern

The Voice of the Writer: Language, Land and People was the eleventh annual residential weekend held at Ardtornish House, Morvern, in memory of Andrew Raven OBE (1959-2005) and the tenth under the umbrella of the Andrew Raven Trust, which was formally constituted in 2008.

The 2017 weekend focussed on the launch of a new Trust publication, reflecting on the wide-ranging topic of sustainable rural development, Notes from Morvern: Ten Years of the Andrew Raven Trust, 2007-2017. The book was commissioned by the trustees in 2016, with ten essays by acclaimed writer Adam Nicolson and a valuable concluding essay by founding chair Simon Pepper OBE.

The book is designed to contribute to discussion on land use in Scotland, and the text is complemented with over 70 illustrations, including photographs and drawings kindly sourced and lent by Morvern residents, among others.

The 2017 weekend also provided an opportunity to acknowledge and reflect on an important thread that has woven through many weekends: ‘the voice (and skills) of the writer’. The Trust has been fortunate to host poets Thomas A. Clark, Mandy Haggith and Katrina Porteous, and writers Mairi Hedderwick and Ruth Little, over the years – as well as Adam Nicolson himself. On each occasion, the writer’s contribution helped participants think differently about topics under discussion, raising awareness of the different perspectives that are often embedded in language and how we use it.

Two recently co-opted trustees, Professor Nigel Leask, Regius Professor of English Language and Literature at Glasgow University and regular Morvern resident, and Isla Robertson, a Morvern-born playwright now based in Glasgow, helped to put together a programme to support Adam’s keynote discussion on his work with Notes from Morvern, which sat at the heart of the weekend. The weekend was structured around four principal themes:

  • Morvern Voices (with contributions from Professor Leask and local historian/archaeologist Dr. Jennifer Robertson as well as Adam himself)
  • Gaelic Voices (with contributions from poet Meg Bateman and Fiona Mackenzie, Gaelic singer and keeper of the important Gaelic song archive at Canna House)
  • Writing in the digital age: blogs/social media (with contributions from Andy Wightman MSP and an interactive Twitter exercise for all participants, organised by Isla Robertson), and
  • Science/Natural History writing (with contributions from Professor Maggie Gill, formerly Chief Scientific Officer for Rural Affairs and the Environment in the Scottish Government, and Tim Dee, whose book Four Fields and work on radio, recording bird song, were familiar to many).

Other contributions came from Professor Hayden Lorimer, Chair of Cultural Geography at Glasgow University, who suggested a different perspective with his talk on a pet cemetery on the North-East Coast, and Burach, Morvern’s local Gaelic choir, led by Rhiona Whyte.

Poet and James Hutton Institute Researcher Orla Shortall introduced us to the growing power and use of improvised or slam poetry, and playwright Chris Hannan wrapped up the final Sunday discussion panel with valuable insights on how we communicate and understand one another, drawing on his long career writing for theatre.

The whole event was ably orchestrated by our incoming Chair, Priscilla Gordon-Duff. And, despite 2017 being the wettest June on record, participants wrapped up to walk the local area in the company of the Gaelic poet Meg Bateman and to listen to Morvern sounds with the ear, and insight, of Tim Dee.

As usual, the catering was amply provided by the local White House Restaurant, and the housekeeping and accommodation immaculately run by Kathryn MacLaughlin and her team at Ardtornish Estate.

The full scribing of the weekend, courtesy of a former Trustee, Jason Pennells, a specialist in international development in the field of education, can be downloaded as a PDF document.

Thanks again to all participants and speakers for launching the book and providing the Trust and Morvern with another thought-provoking weekend.

Amanda Raven

Full report

Please click on the link to download the PDF copy of this report. It is 132 KB.