Writer Cal Flyn lives on the bookshop block. Cal, born in the Highlands, moved to Orkney with her partner Rich last year. Cal’s critically acclaimed book ‘Thicker Than Water’ has been one we have restocked again and again. You can read about it here.
Currently working on the final stages of her new book Islands of Abandonment (we can’t wait to stock it) and walking the lovely Suka (did we mention we are a dog friendly bookshop?), Cal has offered to run a book blog for us where she asks different writers about what books they are reading.
We love the idea. So we thought we’d ask her about her book habits to start off The Book Blog.
Cal before we get in to the books you have to hand at the moment, can you tell us about the book you are working on now and when we might see it in the shop?
Thanks, yes. I’ve been working on Islands of Abandonment in earnest since 2017, and – all being well, and Covid-19 allowing – it should be out in the UK in January 2021. It’s about abandoned places and natural recovery: specifically, how the absence of people can benefit nature, and how human impacts will continue to impact upon the places we’ve left for hundreds of years. I’m also interested in abandonment and its impact on people: why it frightens us and draws us in in equal measure.
For the book, I travelled to an abandoned botanical garden, built by German colonial administration in the mountains of Tanzania; to former Soviet collective farms in Estonia; to the no-man’s-land that splits the island Cyprus across the middle; and to the exclusion zone thrown up around the site of the Chernobyl nuclear accident. I also made some visits closer to home: to the island of Swona to see the famous cattle there, and to the ‘bings’ (shale heaps) of West Lothian.
You will have been here in Orkney a year soon. These past lockdown months, have you had a chance to reflect on your move?
It’s been quite a strange time to have been here, but also an unexpectedly positive experience. We love Stromness, and have found it an easy and welcoming community to join. And lockdown has meant that we have gotten to know local faces in a way that might have taken longer during the normal busy tourist season. We’ve really felt the community pull together, and felt the benefits of being in a small place.
We’ve come to know the local area very well – being out walking Suka every day. Though we were sorry not to be able to do more trips around the smaller isles over this period, there’s a lot to be said for treading the same paths every day and really paying attention to the passage of the seasons.
We moved here for Rich’s job – he retrained as a teacher and was posted to Orkney to complete his probationary year. That year will soon be over, but we have loved living here and now plan to stay on.
Judging by your bookshop visits you are a hungry reader. What are you reading at the moment?
Ha, yes – books are probably one of our biggest outgoings. I’m very bad at starting new books while I’m still midway through others, and equally bad at buying more books than I can possibly get around to reading. So my bedside table and bedroom floor is absolutely littered with half-read books. Here’s a partial list of what I’m midway through at the moment: Trust Exercise by Susan Choi, a novel about trust and emotional manipulation set in a school for the performing arts; The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld, a three-stranded story about violence against women set on the Lothian coast; The Last Wolf by Jim Crumley, for an essay I’m researching; Wow No Thank You by Samantha Irby, a book of comic essays that have made me laugh out loud; Vesper Flights, the new book of essays by the author of H is for Hawk (to be published later this summer); and Cane, a remarkable experimental novel by Harlem Renaissance author Jean Toomer.
Next up Cal’s interview with local author Duncan McLean