Sukayaking Western Django: Brian Wilson Rides Into Town

Edinbane Hall, Tuesday, February 26, 7:30 p.m.

BrianWilson HIS PhotoThe legendary lone kayaker drifts along the coastline for a final, explosive showdown with the Reading Room this Tuesday evening, February 26. When asked for a quote about his reputation for having the best doggone draw in the West(ern isles), he responded, “It’s gotten pretty gritty. I’ve started to hear the word ‘draw’ in my sleep…but man, I got vision and the rest of the world wears bifocals.”

As I watched a video of soprano Renée Fleming’s stunning performance of Belini’s “Casta Diva”, there was something familiar in her portrayal of Norma. I had just heard a 2008 podcast of TV journalist Simon Willis interviewing Brian Wilson about his daring sea kayaking. The soprano’s heroine reflected a tone that was also contained in Wilson’s voice – that of a secret smile.

BRIANbLAZING2008Back in 1995, Blazing Paddles: A Scottish Coastal Odyssey, was the new product of a solitary 1985 adventure Brian Wilson had in his tiny kayak. His 1800-mile feat challenged more than his physical endurance. Navigation around the intimidating sea passages, cliffs and treacherous shores must have been intellectual manna for this philosopher.

Brian once said that in his opinion, circumnavigation is a pretty boring thing to do and that coastlines are the whole thing: Landing, cooking and sleeping on them and wondering about who else did these things, in a time when it was their way of life. They used similar boats in a similar way. His daredevil kayaking appears to be balanced by a lust for knowing the land and the lore.

In 1990, before Blazing Paddles was serialized by BBC’s Book at Bedtime and rescued offBrianWilson sports shelves to become a best seller in the travel section, Brian completed his solo 1200-mile voyage around the coast of Ireland, which later metamorphosed into Dances with Waves – Around Ireland by Kayak. Picture his little kayak “lashed by the tail-wind of Hurricane Gusta, bombarded by the incontinent gannets of the Skelligs and almost run down by a ghost galleon off Mizen Head”. Again, his tales are tall, and do we dare ask him if they are all true or did the faeries tickle his impish side?

Another Scottish adventurer, renowned writer and mountaineer Cameron McNeish, recognized a fellow risk- taker in a review of Dances with Waves: “This is the story of a great journey taken by a larger-than-life individual who is not happy unless pushing out the boundaries of his own experience.”

My apologies to Brian Wilson, whom I told I couldn’t obtain Blazing Paddles on Kindle. It is indeed available on Amazon’s UK site. A 4th edition in paperback will be published in May 2019 (Birlinn Books) but an old edition may be bought directly from him by post (email Brian at Dances with Waves can be found in the library or online.

Expect to be taken on a journey through folklore, history and environmental issues, including wildlife disturbance on the seas. Brian has worked with many of the major Scottish conservation and environmental organisations. He is now a freelance environmental contractor and trainer, specializing in traditional stonework and thatching.

The Reading Room is excited to be bringing Brian Wilson to Edinbane Community Hall and welcomes everyone to join us at 7:30 p.m. Refreshments will be served. Our Good Reads corner will be available for perusal. Admission is £5 and members are free. Please enquire about our reasonable memberships.

For anyone who relishes something to eat before the reading, some members of the committee like to catch dinner at the Edinbane Inn. Please feel free to join us around 6 p.m.

For information on this or other issues, please contact us at or on Facebook: Reading Room – Skye.

This event is partly sponsored by the Scottish Book Trust.

Future events:

26 March: Simon Clayton will host our first Book Club Evening at Edinbane Hall, for discussion on his second novel, “A Place by the Sea”. There will be some copies available at our Brian Wilson event and the novel is also available on Amazon Kindle.

30 April: Ian Williams, “Great Stories Written Badly” and AGM.

(Thanks to Blazing Saddles’ Jim the Waco Kid and Butch Cassidy, for sins untold.)

Who Am I? Jewish Identity and the Faces of Tracey S. Rosenberg

Reading  January 29 7:30 pm Edinbane Hall  Workshop  January 30  7:30-9 pm  Portree


She’s a funny lady, a self-pronounced loud poet whose cat vociferously agrees with her. When she’s not making people laugh, they might be weeping over the eloquent poems of her second chapbook, “The Naming of Cancer” (Neon, 2014), which enfolds the reader as witness to the agony and courage of patients, family and health carers. Her first novel, “The Girl in the Bunker” (Cargo Publishing, 2011), elicits a groaning sense that children, somewhere, are even today being forced to decipher truths about racism and self-identification.


Tracey S. Rosenberg describes herself as an American who came to Scotland and never left. We will detect if she has become a wee bit Scottish, when she joins us to read her story “The Western Wall”, a fictional response to Muriel Spark’s award-winning novel, “The Mandelbaum Gate”.  As part of the celebrations of Spark’s centenary, Tracey was awarded an Endless Different Ways grant from Creative Scotland, and she travelled to Jerusalem to write the story, which depicts three modern young women whose personal identities conflict with their shared religious history.

“The Mandelbaum Gate” provides the author  prepositional angles in theology, adventure, humour, romance and mad philosophy to shimmy up, hang from and slide down, so we can look forward to her creative gymnastics inspired by the novel that Spark wrote after witnessing a few days of the Adolf Eichmann trial in 1961. The novel addresses, among other issues, complex interpretations of Jewish identity.

tracey cancer

The surgeon’s finger stands in for the blade: /
it will remove her, just here.       “Touch”

The poems of Tracey S. Rosenberg have been published in a variety of journals and anthologies, including The Istanbul Review, Gutter, New Writing Scotland and The Journal of the American Association. Her short story “May the Bell be Rung for Harriet!” won the Brontë Society Creative Competition, with the shortlist judged by Dame Margaret Drabble, and was selected for Best British Short Stories 2015. She can be seen performing and volunteering at multiple literary festivals around Scotland, and among the intriguing vimeos in which you can view her, my favorite for sheer, exuberant delight is the “Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games Closing Ceremonies”.

Our Tuesday evening reading at Edinbane Hall, January 29, begins at 7:30 p.m. £5 at the door; members are free. Everyone is welcome. Refreshments are served after Tracey’s reading and there will be plenty of time for Q & A, browsing our Good Reads section and general chatting. Be sure to ask about our reasonable memberships and feel free to give input on what you would like to see happen with the Reading Room in the future.

Tracey’s workshop on “Portraying Character” will be held at St. Columba’s Church, downtown Portree, in the Parish Rooms, on Wednesday, January 30th, 7:30-9:00 p.m.  No preparation is needed and participants need only bring paper and pen and £5 fee. Refreshments will be served.

Be sure to catch Tracey on Simon Clayton’s “Ever Changing Moods” program, Cuillin FM, Wednesday, January 30, 10:30 a.m.

If you need info on this event or the Reading Room, please contact us at or on Facebook: Reading Room – Skye.





Classical Celebration for the Holidays

Submitted by Angus Ross, Skye Chamber Music
SCM XMASSkye Chamber Music is producing the 3rd Classical Celebration, with the Island Chorus, Reading Room and Skye and Lochalsh Orchestra. It will be held at the Fingal Centre at the High School in Portree, on Monday 10th December, starting at 6:40 p.m. The programme is below, and it follows the huge success of the last two years.  Why not bring a party, your own wine (or preferred tipple), glasses (from which to drink) and a table decoration – for which there will be a prize for the best.  Let’s try and beat the 150 or so audience of the last two years!
In a change this year, we will be providing a hot buffet for everybody – so just come with yourselves, friends, and booze (including coffee and tea if you are so inclined)!  As with the previous two celebrations, there will be no charge to enter (or enjoy the food) but there will be an opportunity to take part in a prize draw and donate towards the cost of the event.  
Each of the supporting groups will have a stall in the foyer and representatives will be happy to talk with you, should you need more information about what we all do. The plan is to have books and CDs also for sale at very reasonable prices.
6.40 – Live music starts with Kevin and Chris Watkiss playing a Two piano Duet, by Brahms. Variations on a Theme by Haydn (those of you there last year might remember their phenomenal finale – and won’t want to be late and miss this!)
7 p.m.  Main concert starts
Beethoven Piano Trio Opus 1 no. 1. 1st and 4th movements. Alan Donald, violin. Bar Purser, Cello. Chris Watkiss, piano.
Island Chorus sing a medley from Phantom of the Opera.
Morag Henriksen, Stephen Plant and Helen Danter will represent The Reading Room, with a selection of WW1 songs and poems from Far, Far from Ypres.
John Purser, Circus Suite, piano duet: Pianists Chris and Elaine. 
Sammartini recorder concerto: Soloist Judith Bullivant accompanied by Peter MacLaren and members of the Skye and Lochalsh Orchestra.
Food will then be served during which the live music continues with… 
Alan Donald, viola. Meg Rosher, Flute.
The Broadford Trio: Peter MacLaren, Judith Bullivant and Lynne Armistace-Brown.
The Reading Room committee wants to thank everyone who has supported our Skye group, and we wish all of you Happy Holidays. 
We look forward to seeing you at the Classical Celebration. For information regarding this event or the Reading Room, we can be contacted at or on Facebook: Reading Room – Skye.

Two Rebels With A Cause: Roger Hutchinson Discusses Calum MacLeod for Book Week Scotland

Book Week Scotland evening, Tuesday, November 20, 7:30 p.m.

At our November meeting, we will be saluting books and reading with a twist, honoring those writers and people who resisted the dictates of society and convention. This year,  Scottish Book Trust’s annual Book Week Scotland celebrates that rebel in all of us, which allows us to find and express our individual voices and which inspires us to challenge convention and expectation.

Roger Rebel PortraitWe enthusiastically welcome author, journalist and rebel, Roger Hutchinson, who will help us revisit another rebel and the subject of his book, Calum’s Road (2006), which was shortlisted for the Royal Society of Literature’s Ondaatje Prize.

Calum’s Road is the story of the lone struggle of Raasay crofter Calum MacLeod to preserve his island community by building a road with a pick, shovel and wheelbarrow. This unrelenting pursuit of his goal helped establish him as a passionate rebel and has inspired songs, theatre productions, radio plays and, of course, books and stories. The one and three-quarter-mile road between Brochel Castle and Arnish (along with the infamous wheelbarrow under the sign on the road) continues to spur visitors and locals to rant about government and other authorities in general. 

Calum himself was a writer/historian of distinction and he also corresponded vociferously with local authorities and newspapers.

When you spend enough time on Skye, it is not surprising to discover more than the usual fare of rebellious natures. The weather is wild and unpredictable–so are many of its people. Roger Hutchinson is one of those citizens who has stood outside of the box for decades, though he claims he hasn’t been rebellious for forty years.

Roger founded and edited Sad Traffic in the 1960s, publishing five issues from a small office in Barnsley before it turned into Yorkshire’s alternative newspaper, Styng. He then moved to London to edit OZ, an underground magazine that was the “British Hippy incarnation of Australia’s counterculture magazine”. After obscenity charges, pleadings, trials and sentences, the magazine’s editors were acquitted on appeal.

He was also an editor for the leading underground paper, International Times, which moved in tune with the socio-cultural revolution spreading in the late 60s. It also had its tussles with police harassment. He then moved on to edit the tamer counter-culture Time Out, which spouted alternative viewpoints on gay rights, racial equality and police harassment.

After Roger moved to Skye in the 1970s, he continued to write. The author of fifteen non-fiction books still champions rebellious subjects, including Lord Leverhulme (The Soap Man); Glendale Crofter John MacPherson (Martyrs); Father Allan McDonald (Father Allan); Aleister Crowley (Aleister Crowley: The Beast Demystified); and New World immigrants (Walking to America). In addition to working on books, Roger now reviews other authors’ books for several newspapers and magazines, including a column in the West Highland Free Press.

Roger Hutchinson is a cherished friend of ours and he graciously remarked when asked to return for this annual literary occasion, “It’s always good to meet and chat with old friends at the Skye Reading Room. It feels like coming home. So thanks to the Scottish Book Trust for subsidizing our latest tryst!”

A colourful addition to the evening will be writer, artist and singer Morag Henriksen, who will perform her song lyrics “Calum’s Road” to Donald Shaw’s famous modern Scottish strathspey. Her words were inspired by what she already knew from local lore about Calum and also by Roger’s book about him and his endeavour. The lyrics are published in her own imaginative book of stories, Scenery of Dreams

Roger REBEL BOOKBe sure to get your free copy of Rebel, a collection of stories and poems written by the public and some of Scotland’s most talented authors. It is the culmination of a 3-month-long writing project run by the Scottish Book Trust, in 2018. We have some copies to give away at our celebration.

On Tuesday, November 20, 7:30 p.m., bring your own rebellious spirit to Edinbane Community Hall and share some refreshments and wild abandon with fellow book lovers. Admission is free, compliments of Book Week Scotland, Scottish Book Trust.

For information regarding this event or the Reading Room, we can be contacted at or on Facebook: Reading Room – Skye.



Margaret Elphinstone Takes Us on a Journey

October 30 Meeting, 7:30 pm, Edinbane Hall

     “…you pick up your character and you follow them. He wanders through all these          worlds, and you need to know what he needs to know. So I got out my canoe on the            Ottawa  River and we went canoeing.”

As I began to research Margaret Elphinstone’s writing projects along with my own memories of her, a thought started to niggle at me about some authors: It’s not just the reading of a book. It’s the body heat it absorbs from my hands. The placing of  my index finger on a precious phrase. The book mark reluctantly fitted against the gutter, when the real world calls me away.

In my own nomadic state, Kindle has had to suffice. As I readied to order a virtual novel of Margaret’s, I saw the words from a couple of lit reviews: “…old-fashioned.” “…slow and beautiful.” “…emotional landslide.” I knew the download would have to wait until I could hold this novel in my hands. Some books are like that.


“My unimposing find was a scrap of roasted hazelnut, which, when carbon-dated, extended the known history of Orkney back to around 6000 BC. To the time of my novel in fact; I took this as an excellent omen. (The Gathering Night)

Margaret will be visiting the Reading Room on October 30, with the theme, “Journeys into Writing,” and will also discuss the journey theme in her books. Both will be exciting in different ways. She is a documented master of creating characters’ internal journeys from the research that takes her on marvelous adventures. She has made discoveries on archeological digs, ringed a puffin, spent days alone on uninhabited islands, got marooned on Shivinish, made a coracle on Coll (and paddled), and felt the heat through her boots on the cooling lava of Eldfell on the Icelandic island of Heinmaey.

That’s not where it ends though. The author is a child of the 1960s, and she had a bellyful of fire for civil rights, the peace movement, the second wave of feminism, anti-nuclear demonstrations and scrutiny of the values, lifestyles and institutions of the day. “In those days, we thought we would change the world,” she says, to echo American radical feminist Marilyn French.


Elphinstone sat on the doorstep of Eirik the Red’s house. Very little had changed from what Gudrid had seen 1000 years ago. (Sea Voyageurs)

Margaret appears to have started out her life with a big bang of ideologies, which she claims are invisible from within. “The world does change, but nobody changes it…what we have perceived as the natural order of things cannot be wiped out by any effort of will.”

The era of her novel-writing seems to have popped up in the middle of her life, when she jumped off of the activist treadmill. She suggests writing her novels was an absorbing immersion but we could see it as a natural progression in her study of human nature and “where have we been, where are we going to?”

ElphinstoneSeaRoadElphinstone remarks that as a historical novelist, her characters are constructed by history–not only do they speak and act according to their context, but they can only think and feel within that context. Is this passion she has devoted to the history of our survival the missing link necessary to her developing formula for the future? She has commented that her own generation has been unable to accept a historical cause and effect. “Over issues of climate change or economic profligacy, we have not fully experienced how the world changes.”

Now novel-writing has been retired and she has hopped onto the treadmill again. We can catch her writing essays, making speeches and causing little rumbles within mountain caverns. Margaret Elphinstone is being heard again in those earlier hallways that still echo with a human condition that needs a strong voice. The intimate energy of Edinbane Hall will surely be agitating the little grey cells of anyone thirsty enough to show up.

The evening will begin at 7:30 p.m.. Admission is free for members, £5 for non-members. Our reasonable memberships are always available at the door. Refreshments will  be served and our Good Reads table will exhibit a variety of books, including our two Reading Room anthologies.

For information regarding this event or the Reading Room, we can be contacted at or on Facebook: Reading Room – Skye.

This event is sponsored in part by Scottish Book Trust Live Lit