The Orcadian author of The Outrun – an award-winning, critically-acclaimed memoir of addiction, sobriety and the natural world – talks to The Book Blog about homesickness, her favourite books about Orkney, and the titles she presses into other people’s hands.
Hello Amy, what a pleasure to have you on the site: this is home ground for you, if only virtually. How often do you visit Stromness Books & Prints – and what’s your favourite thing about it?
I visit every time I’m home – which is just a couple of times a year at the moment. I like the whole experience of walking down to Graham Place and will probably combine it with a trawl in the Red Cross shop and getting a beef and tattle roll from Argo’s. Thinking about that is making me homesick.
What are your favourite books about Orkney?
I love Venus as a Boy by Luke Sutherland and read that at a formative age, a strange and beautiful book that doesn’t hold back talking about some darker sides of island life. I often pick up Tom Muir’s Mermaid’s Bride: Orkney Folk Tales for reference and inspiration. I’ve also been informed of the existence of a book on alcoholism by former Stromness bookshop owner John L. Broom – can anyone tell me more? [Get in touch if you can help!]
What books are on your bedside table right now, and are you enjoying them?
Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer; I’m slowly reading this non-fiction collection by a native American plant biologist and it is phenomenal. Every chapter contains a strong fresh new way of looking at the world.
Kith by Jay Griffith on childhood and the natural world – two of my main interests. She’s a brilliant writer.
I also have a small pile of books by black British women I bought this week as part of an effort to get them all into the bestseller lists: Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge and I Am Not Your Baby Mother by Candice Brathwaite (which I am enjoying).
Do you read one-book-at-a-time. Or are you a promiscuous reader, leaping from text to text according to whim?
I usually have two or three books on the go at once – but once I get into one of them I’ll stick with it.
Do you have strong preferences for fiction or non-fiction? And any particular genres that you favour above all else?
I definitely read a lot more non-fiction. My background is as a journalist and good, long-form journalism is what excites me most as well as the possibilities of memoir.
Do you keep your books pristine, or do you write on them, fold down pages and otherwise deface them?
I underline and asterisk my favourite sentences and paragraphs. Sometimes I copy out passages into my journal to try and absorb fully, and learn to write.
What book or books do you press into other people’s hands at any opportunity?
I’ve recently given copies of The Writing Life by Annie Dillard and The Solace of Open Spaces by Gretel Ehrlich. A few female American nature writers and essayists from a generation or two above me are my main inspiration recently (see also: Rebecca Solnit and Naomi Klein) .
Interview by Cal Flyn
If you haven’t read Amy’s beautiful book The Outrun, make sure to pick up a copy from the bookshop at Graham Place when you next get a chance. It’s one of our bestselling titles – and rightly so.